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REIVtOTTE PEOPLE 



Other Books by 

EVELYN WAUGH 

Rossetti : His Life and Works 

Labels : A Mediterranean 
Journal 







H.I.M. Haile Selassie the First 

KING OF THE KINGS OF ETHIOPIA 


REMOTE PEOPLE 

by 

EVELYN WAUGH 


DUCKWORTH 

3 HENRIETTA STREET, LONDON, W.C. 



First Fts-hlishe^ 1 9 3 x 
AUL, RIGHTS RESERVED 


]MadLe tind Printed, in Great Sri tain 
By The Camelot Press Ltd 
London and Sonthampton 



To 

LAVERY 



CONTENTS 


ETHIOPIAN EMPIRE f). 9 

FIRST NIGHTMARE II3 

BRITISH EMPIRE I25 

SECOND NIGHTMARE 2 I 5 

THIRD NIGHTMARE 237 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 


H.I.M. HAILE SELASSIE THE FIRST, 

KING OF THE KINGS OF ETHIOPIA 

frontispiece 

GORGis facing page 58 

HARAR 98 

LAHEJ 149 

HOST AND HOSTESS AT NAIVASHA 193 

CONVENT GARDEN IN UGANDA 2O7 

STATIONS ON THE UPPER CONGO 227 

MAPS 

, ABYSSINIA AND SOUTH ARABIA II 

KENYA, TANGANYIKA, UGANDA AND 

CONGO 160 




EXHIOPIAlSr EMPIRE 





Facing page ii] 


ABYSSINIA AND 



ARABIA 


MAP NO. I 



AFRICA : SHOWING AREAS OF MAPS 








ETHIOPIAN EMPIRE 
ONE 

They were still dancing when, just before dawn on 
October 1 9th, 1 930, the Azay le Rideau came into harbour 
at Djibouti. The band — a pitiably hot quartet in al- 
paca dinner-jackets — had long ago packed up their 
instruments and retired to their remote and stifling cabin. 
An Anamite boy was swabbing the deck and pushing 
into the scuppers sodden masses of paper streamers. 
Two or three stewards were at work pulling down the 
flags and festoons of coloured lights with which the ship 
had been decorated. One couple remained. 

The girl was a second-class passenger to Mauritius ; 
she was clearly of mixed blood, and she had chosen to 
wear the costume of a Tyrolean peasant, hired for the 
night from the ship’s barber. Her partner was an officer 
in the French Foreign Legion ; he wore an ill-fitting 
white uniform, open at the throat ; he was quite young, 
blue-chinned, slightly pot-bellied, shorter than she by 
several inches. Their feet moved slowly over the wet 
boards to the music of a portable gramophone ; at inter- 
vals they stopped, and unclasped each other, to rewind 
the instrument and reverse the single record. 

For two days of gross heat the ship had been en fSte. 
There had been deck games, races for the children, a 
tombola with two-franc tickets and such prizes as could 
be procured on board — bottles of vermouth and eau-de- 
Cologne, tins of tobacco, sweets, lumps of coral, and 
ornamental cigarette-holders from Port Said. An auto- 
graphed photograph of Marshal d’Esperez had been 
put up to auction and sold, amid wild applause, to a 


II 



12 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


Press photographer for 900 francs ; a cinema film had 
been exhibited by one of the passengers, with a faltering 
light on a screen that flapped restlessly in the hot breeze ; 
there had been a horse-race decided by throw of dice, 
with a pari-mutuel and many hotly disputed results ; at 
the deck bar there had been frequent orders for cham- 
pagne, shared among families of French officials, six or 
eight of them to a bottle. Finally, on the last evening of 
the voyage, the fSte had culminated in a fancy-dress 
dinner, a concert, and a ball. 

It was a widely diverse company who had been thus 
indulged. There sat at my table a red-headed American 
on his way to Saigon, where he hoped to sell agricultural 
machinery ; his watch-chain was loaded with Masonic 
insignia, he wore a ring of the interlaced initials of some 
other commercial secret society, he had Froth Blowers’ 
cviff-links, and a Rotarian wheel in his buttonhole. No 
doubt he needed some such evidence of good-fellowship 
to aid his salesmanship, for he was unable to speak a word 
of French and was obliged to have the menu translated to 
him by his neighbour, the Italian proprietor of the third- 
best hotel in Madras. There was also an English girl 
who wore green sandals, and her mother who carried 
everywhere a small but assertive lapdog, which formed 
the basis of many complaints from those who were 
scandalised by her daughter’s carmine toe-nails. There 
was a large number of French colonial officials, their 
wives and disorderly children, who make up the bulk of 
a normal Messageries Maritimes passenger list, on this 
occasion reinforced by a draft of the Foreign Legion 
on their way to preserve discipline in Indo-China. The 
men travelled fourth class, sprawling about the lower 
deck by day, battened down in the hold at night. They 
were mostly Germans and Russians ; in the evening they 
formed into little groups and sang songs. They had a 
band of drums and mouth-organs which came up to play 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


13 

in the first-class saloon on the evening of the concert. 
The drum was painted with the device “ Mon Jazz.” 
Two of them climbed through a porthole one night in the 
Suez Canal and escaped. Next day a third tried to follow 
their example. We were all on deck drinking our 
morning aperitifs when we heard a splash and saw a 
shaven-headed figure in shirt-sleeves scrambling up the 
bank behind us. He had no hat and the sun was at its 
strongest. He ran through the sand, away from the ship, 
with gradually slackening speed. When he realised 
that no one was pursuing him he stopped and turned 
round. The ship went on. The last we saw of him 
was a figure stumbling after us and waving his arms. 
No one seemed the least put out by the occurrence. My 
cabin steward usually had some story to tell me of daily 
life on the lower deck. One day two of the legionaries 
began fighting and were put in the cells ; another day a 
Chinaman went mad in the night and tried to commit 
suicide ; another day there had been a theft on board, 
and so on. I think he used to invent a great deal to 
amuse me. 

Besides this normal traffic of the line, there were about 
twenty of us bound for Djibouti on our way to Abyssinia 
for the emperor’s coronation. My own presence there 
requires some explanation. Six weeks before, I had 
barely heard Ras Tafari’s name. I was in Ireland, staying 
in a house where chinoiserie and Victorian gothic contend 
for mastery over a Georgian structure. We were in the 
library, discussing over the atlas a journey I proposed 
to make to China and Japan. We began talking of other 
journeys, and so of Abyssinia. One of the party was on 
leave from Cairo ; he knew something of Abyssinian 
politics and the coming coronation. Further information 
was contributed from less reliable sources ; that the 
Abyssinian Church had canonised Pontius Pilate, and 
consecrated their bishops by spitting on their heads ; that 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


14 

the real heir to the throne was hidden in the mountains, 
fettered with chains of solid gold ; that the people lived 
on raw meat and mead ; we looked up the royal family 
in the Almanack de Gotha and traced their descent from 
Solomon and the Queen of Sheba ; we found a history 
which began : “ The first certain knowledge which we 

have of Ethiopian history is when Cush the son of 

ascended the throne immediately after the Deluge ” ; 
an obsolete encyclopaedia informed us that, “ though 
nominally Christian, the Abyssinians are deplorably lax 
in their morals, polygamy and drunkenness being com- 
mon even among the highest classes and in the monas- 
teries.” Everything I heard added to the glamour of this 
astonishing country. A fortnight later I was back in 
London and had booked my passage to Djibouti. Two 
days later I was in a railway train going to Gloucester- 
shire, where I met a friend who works on the staff of a 
London daily newspaper. I began boasting to him of my 
trip. My only anxiety was whether, as a tripper, I 
should be able to obtain access to the more interesting 
ceremonies. He said he thought that it might be 
arranged for me to go in some subordinate position to 
assist the paper. Accordingly, on my return from the 
week-end I saw his foreign editor and emerged from the 
interview for the first time in my life a fully accredited 
journalist, with a miniature passport authorising me to 
act as special correspondent during the ten days’ corona- 
tion celebrations at Addis Ababa. Five days later I was 
on board the Azay le JRideau at Marseille, and ten days 
after that I was standing on deck in my pyjamas watching 
the dawn break over the low coast-line of French Somali- 
land and over the haggard couple dancing to the gramo- 
phone. 

Sleep had been impossible for some time, as the 
servants of the Egyptian delegation had been at work 
assembling their masters’ luggage immediately opposite 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


15 

the door of my cabin. Tin trunk after tin trunk was 
dragged out with loud military commands from the 
sergeant in charge and loud unmilitary remonstrances 
from his subordinates. It seemed hardly conceivable 
that five men could have so many clothes. And after the 
tin trunks came the great crates which contained the 
King of Egypt’s present to the emperor. These had 
appeared on board at Port Said under escort of an armed 
patrol, and throughout the voyage had been guarded 
with some ostentation ; their contents had been the 
object of wild speculation among the passengers, our 
imaginations wallowing in a profusion of biblical opulence 
— frankincense, sardonyx, madrepore, and porphyry. In 
point of fact, as appeared later, they contained a hand- 
some but unexceptional suite of bedroom furniture. 

There were three other delegations on board, from 
France, Holland, and Poland ; a fourth, the Japanese, 
was awaiting our arrival at Djibouti. When not exchang- 
ing ceremonious introductions,* or pacing the decks at 
great speed, these envoys occupied themselves with 
finely emblazoned despatch-cases, writing, typing and 
annotating their complimentary addresses. 

At first sight there is something a little surprising in 
this sudden convergence on Abyssinia of the envoys of 
the civilised world, and I think that the Abyssinians were 
as surprised as anyone. After the sudden death of the 
Empress Zauditu in the spring of the year, immediately 
subsequent to the defeat of her husband Ras Gougsa, 
Ras Tafari notified the Powers that he proposed, as soon 
as he decently could, to assume the title of Emperor of 
Ethiopia, and included in this announcement, in the 

1 One of the first discoveries I made in my new profession was that 
nearly everyone in public life is obsessed by the fear that his name will be 
spelled wrong. As soon as it became known that I was a journalist — on 
board, and later at Addis Ababa — I was again and again approached by 
diffident officials tendering cards engraved with their names and correct 
tides. 



case of those few nations who maintained diplomatic 
representatives at his Court, an invitation to attend the 
ceremonies. A few years before, he had been crowned 
Negus ; on that occasion his immediate neighbours had 
taken a few days’ holiday to visit him, and there had been 
a mild exchange of courtesies by telegram. Something 
a little more conspicuous was expected of the imperial 
coronation, but the response of the world Powers exceeded 
Ethiopian expectation in a manner that was both gratify- 
ing and embarrassing. The States less directly interested 
in African affairs construed the notification as an invita- 
tion, and those with important local interests seized the 
opportunity for a display of cordiality and esteem out of 
all proportion to anything their previous relations with 
the country had given reason to expect. Two Govern- 
ments sent members of their royal families ; the United 
States of America sent a gentleman of experience in the 
electric installation trade ; the Governors of British 
Somaliland, the Soudan, Eritrea, the Resident at Aden, a 
marshal of France, an admiral, three airmen, and a 
marine band all appeared in various uniforms and orders. 
Substantial sums of public money were diverted to the 
purchase of suitable gifts ; the Germans brought a 
signed photograph of General von Hindenburg and eight 
hundred bottles of hock ; the Greeks a modern bronze 
statuette ; the Italians an aeroplane ; the British a pair 
of elegant sceptres with an inscription composed, almost 
correctly, in Amharic. 

Why all this fuss ? Many people, even those intimately 
involved, were asking themselves this question. The 
simpler Abyssinians interpreted it as a suitable tribute to 
Abyssinian greatness ; the kings of the world were doing 
homage. Others, a little more versed in world affairs, 
saw in it some plot against Abyssinian integrity — ^the 
ferangi had come to spy out the land. Honest colonists all 
over Africa grumbled at this absurd display of courtesy 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


17 

towards a mere native. At the legations themselves 
there was some restlessness ; all this would still further 
complicate the task of impressing on the Abyssinians 
their real unimportance in the greater world ; but what 
could they do ? If some Powers chose to send dukes and 
princes, sceptres and aeroplanes, what could the others 
do but follow as best they could ? Who started the 
stampede ? And the Abyssinian Government may have 
wondered a little apprehensively how all these august 
gate-crashers were to be accommodated, and how the ex- 
penses of hospitality were to be met out of an irregular 
revenue and a depreciated currency. Why all this fuss ? 

One need not explore any deep political causes for a 
plausible explanation. Addis Ababa is not a palace where 
great diplomatic reputations are easily won, and the poten- 
tates of the Foreign Office do not keep any very keen 
scrutiny to see how their cadets are shaping in that rare 
altitude. Diplomatic appointment there may be a suit- 
able reward for an industrious consul-general, but it is 
scarcely the foundation of a career. Who could blame 
these officials if occasionally there crept into their des- 
patches phrases tending to estimate with some generosity 
the importance of the land of their exile ? Is Abyssinia 
not the source of the Blue Nile ? May there not be vast 
mineral wealth in those unprospected hills ? And if, in 
the trivial course of compotmd life, that unvarying round 
of modest entertainment, there suddenly came to the 
women of the diplomatic corps — ^poor half-sisters of the 
great ladies of Washington or Rome — ^the possibility of 
sudden splendour, of royalty and gold braid, curtseys 
and champagne and handsome A.D.C.s, who can blame 
them if they strengthened their menfolk in urging the 
importance of really imposing special representation at 
rhe festivities ? 

And need one wonder if States very remote from Africa 
— sledded Polaks and blond Swedes — decided to join in 

Bp 



i8 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


the party ? If the glamour of Abyssinia had drawn me 
there from a life of comparative variety and freedom, 
why not them from their grey chanceries ? Gun-cases 
among their trunks of uniform showed that they intended 
to make the most of their jaunt, and several of them, I 
know, had paid their own fares. “ Nous avons quatre 
citoyens ici, mais deux sont juifs,” one attach^ explained 
to me, and proceeded to demonstrate the apparatus with 
which, during his sojourn in Africa, he hoped to add to 
his already extensive collection of butterflies. 

Day broadened rapidly and the dancers finally separ- 
ated and went off to bed. Lighters came out from shore 
and coaling began. Planks stretched between the ship 
and the barges. One of them broke, throwing the Somali 
coolies heavily on to the coal — a drop of ten feet or more. 
One lay on his back groaning after the others had got up. 
The foreman threw a lump of coal at him. He groaned 
and turned on to his face ; another lump, and he stag- 
gered to his feet and resumed work. Somali boys came 
swimming round the ship calling for money to be thrown 
them. Passengers appeared on deck. 

We lay well out in the bay. Between us and the land- 
ing-stage lay the wreck of a large cargo boat, heeled over 
on her side, swept clear, and corroded by the tide. She 
is mentioned in Armandy’s La Disagr cable Partie de 
Camfagm. 

Soon it began to rain. 

Great uncertainty prevailed as to how or when we 
should get to Addis Ababa. The purser had been most 
reassuring. He had wired to the station informing them 
of the number of passengers, he said. A special train 
would be ready for us that day. There were conflicting 
rumours about, however. Those who had some pre- 
vious acquaintance with Abyssinia remarked that things 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


19 

could not conceivably be as smooth as that. Report cir- 
culated that there was to be a special train, but that it was 
only for the delegations ; a further report that there were 
to be two trains, one that morning for delegations, one in 
the evening for unofficial passengers ; that a shipload of 
passengers were arriving that day from Aden from a 
P. & O. liner, and that there was very little hope of ac- 
commodation ; that all unofficial traffic had been stopped 
until after the coronation. The delegations themselves 
knew nothing of their arrangements except that they 
were expected to luncheon at the governor’s house. 

We waited our turn to go ashore with some anxiety. 
The coolies droned dismally up and down the unstable 
planks ; the little boys in the water cried for francs, or 
appeared shivering on deck, offering to amuse us by 
jumping back again ; guns on shore boomed the salutes 
as the Government launch fetched each delegation in 
turn. The warm rain poured down steadily. 

Eventually we were free to land. There was another 
Englishman travelling to Addis Ababa, an elderly gen- 
tleman on his way to the legation as a private visitor. 
Throughout the voyage he had studied a formidable 
little book about tropical hygiene, and passed on to me 
much disquieting information about malaria and black- 
water, cholera and elephantiasis ; he used, over his cigar 
in the evenings, to explain how hook-worms ate their way 
from the soles of the feet to the internal organs, how 
jiggers laid their eggs under the toe-nails, and retailed 
the symptoms of slow paralysis with which the spirillum 
tick might infect us. 

Together we put our luggage in charge of the French- 
speaking native porter of the Hdtel des Arcades and went 
to the English vice-consul — an amiable young shipping- 
clerk — who told us that there were in fact two trains that 
evening, but both of them were reserved for delegations ; 
the next train was three days later ; that was reserved for 



20 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


the Duke of Gloucester ; there was another one three 
days after that - reserved for Prince Udine, He could 
hold out very little hope of our getting up to Addis, but 
he would see what could be done. In a state of mind 
born of this information we drove to the Hbtel des 
Arcades. Our topees were soft on our heads, oxxr white 
suits clinging about our shoulders. The porter said I 
must go with him to the customs. We arrived there to 
find a damp native soldier on guard with water running 
down his rifle. The customs officer was at the reception 
at Government House, he said. He could not tell what 
time he. would return or whether he would return at all 
that day. By means of the hotel porter I pointed out 
that we must have our luggage to change into dry clothes. 
Nothing could be moved until the officer returned, he said. 
The porter, without more ado, picked up the nearest 
pieces and began piling them into the taxi. The guard 
remonstrated, but the porter continued undeterred. 
Then we drove back to the hotel. 

This was a two-storied building with an arcaded front 
of shabby stucco ; at the back a wooden staircase led to 
two broad verandahs on to which the two or three bed- 
rooms opened. There was a lemon-tree in the yard in- 
habited by a misanthropic black monkey. The proprie- 
tress was a handsome Frenchwoman abounding in com- 
mercial good nature. She gave us warm water and a 
room to change in, and made light of om troubles. It 
was her peculiar fortune to subsist upon the inadequacies 
of the Franco-Ethiopian railway service, for no one 
voluntarily spends long in Djibouti. 

This fact, sufficiently dear from our earliest impres- 
sion, became clearer when, after luncheon, the rain hav- 
ing stopped, we drove for a tour of the town. We 
bumped and rocked along in a one-horse cab through 
pools of steaming mud. The streets, described by the 
offidal guidebook as “ elegant and smiling,” were mere 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


21 


stretches of waste-land between blocks of houses. 
These, in the European quarter, were mostly built on 
the same plan as the hotel, arcaded and decaying. 

“ They look as though they might fall down any 
minute,” remarked my companion as we drove past one 
more than usually dissolute block of offices, and while we 
looked they actually did begin to fall. Great flakes of 
stucco crumbled from the front ; a brick or two, toppling 
from the coping, splashed into the mud below. Some 
scared Indian clerks scampered into the open, a Greek 
in shirt-sleeves appeared from the house opposite, a 
group of half-naked natives rose from their haunches and, 
still scouring their teeth with sticks of wood, gazed appre- 
hensively about them. Our driver pointed excitedly with 
his whip and admonished us in Somali. It had been an 
earthquake which, in the more sensible motion of the 
cab, had escaped our notice. 

We jolted on past a whitewashed mosque to the camel- 
market and native quarter. The Somalis are a race of 
exceptional beauty, very slender and erect, with delicate 
features and fine, wide-set eyes. Most of them wore a 
strip of rag round their waists and a few coils of copper 
wire on wrists and ankles. Their heads were either 
shaven or dyed with ochre. Eight or nine harlots be- 
sieged our carriage until whipped away by the driver ; 
innumerable naked children splashed through the mud 
after us, screaming for bakshish. Some splendid fel- 
lows with spears, in from the country, spat contemptu- 
ously as we passed. We came to the outskirts of the 
town, where the huts, formerly grass-thatched, mud- 
built squares, became little domed structures like in- 
verted birds’ nests, made out of twigs, grass, rags, and 
flattened tins, with one hole through which a man might 
crawl on his belly. We returned by the sea-front past a 
few fairly ordered goods yards and corrugated iron sheds. 
I stopped at the post office and conscientiously cabled 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


back to my employers the arrival of the various delega- 
tions. When I returned to the hotel I found the vice- 
consul there with the good news that he had obtained a 
carriage for us in the first special train that evening. 
Elated though we felt, the heat was still overpowering ; 
we went to sleep. 

At evening, with the knowledge of our imminent 
departure, Djibouti suddenly became more tolerable. 
We visited the shops, bought a French novel with an 
inflammatory wrapper, some Burma cheroots, and 
changed some money, getting, in return for our tattered 
and grimy notes of the Banque d'Indo-Chine, massive 
silver dollars of superb design.^ 

Most recent books about Abyssinia — and I had read 
many between West Meath and Marseille — contain 
graphic descriptions of the train journey between Djibouti 
and Addis Ababa. Normally there is a weekly service 
which does the journey in three days ; the two nights are 
spent in hotels at Dirre-Dowa and Hawash. There are 
several good reasons for not travelling at night; one is 

^ The Marie Th^rese thaler, ousted elsewhere in Africa by the meagre 
rupee or the sordid East African shilling, is still the basic coin of Abyssinia. 
It is not the most commodious form of currency. It varies in value with 
the price of silver, and gives opportunity for a great deal of rather shady 
speculation. Notes are issued by the Bank of Abyssinia against a silver 
deposit. Even at Dirre-Dowa, two stations down the line from Addis, 
the local branch of the bank charges a three per cent, discount in cashing 
them, and except in the capital or on the railway they are quite valueless. 
I saw a small caravan setting out for three months in the interior which 
carried two mule-loads of dollars for current expenses. It is the coin 
which the people are used to, and they insist on having it. The Menelik 
doUar went out of circulation because no one wanted it. The half and 
quarter dollar are accepted after prolonged scrutiny. There are two issues, 
in one of which the lion’s tail is straight, while in the other it curls back 
at the tip ; both are of equally pure silver, but the second is usually 
refused, even as a tip. A hundred years ago the Marie Thdr^se thaler 
was the coin of the Arab trader from Tangier to Manchuria. Now its 
general use survives only in Arabia and Ethiopia. It is still minted in 
Vienna from the 1780 die, a gracious survival which forms, however, a 
very deceptive introduction to Ethiopian manners. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


23 

that the lights in the train are liable to frequent failure ; 
another that during the rainy season it is not unusual for 
parts of the line to get washed away ; another that the 
Galla and Danakil, through whose country the line 
passes, are still primarily homicidal in their interests, and 
in the early days of the railway formed a habit, not yet 
wholly eradicated, of taking up steel sleepers here and 
there to forge into spear-heads. ‘ During coronation 
week, however, it was found necessary, if the rolling-stock 
was to be adequate to the additional traffic, to run through 
trains. We left Djibouti after dinner on Friday and 
arrived at Addis on Sunday morning. There was, of 
course, no restaurant car and the few wagon-lits were 
occupied by the delegations, but my companion and I 
had each the side of a first-class carriage to ourselves ; we 
stopped for meals at wayside buffets ; it was a fairly 
comfortable journey. 

We passed in the darkness the intolerable desolation 
of French Somaliland — a country of dust and boulders, 
utterly devoid of any sign of life, and arrived at Dirre- 
Dowa at dawn. This orderly little township sprang up 
during the construction of the railway on the land con- 
ceded to the French company, and has lived on the rail- 
way ever since with slightly diminishing prosperity. It 
contains two hotels, a caf6, and a billiard-saloon, a few 
shops and offices, a bank, a flour-mill, one or two villas, 
and the residence of an Abyssinian governor. Bougain- 
villea and acacia-trees border the streets. Twice a week 
the arrival of a train stirs up a few hours’ activity ; travel- 
lers arrive for the hotels ; luggage is carried about the 
street ; postal officials sort out the mail ; commercial 

^ There are also frequent raids on the telegraph wires, pieces of which 
are much valued as bangles and bracelets. Shortly before the coronation, 
for the convenience of the Press, the Government seized a number of men 
who may have been implitated in the business, cut off a hand and a foot 
apiece, and exhibited them, one at each halt down the line. No doubt 
the example was salutary, but the telegraph servite remained very irregular. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


24 

agents put on their sun-helmets and saunter down with 
their invoices to the goods oiBce ; then, like a small 
island when the mail-boat steams out of harbour, Dirre- 
Dowa relapses into its large siesta. 

This, however, was no ordinary week. Not since 
1 9 1 6 — the civil war before the last — when Lej Yasu’s 
Mohammedan followers were massacred just over the 
hills at Harar - had Dirre-Dowa known so many radic- 
ally disturbing events as this succession of special trains 
bringing the emperor’s visitors to the coronation. Flag- 
staffs painted with the Abyssinian colours had been 
planted down the main streets, and lines of yellow, red, 
and green flags strung between them ; motor-cars had 
been brought by train from the capital — for there are no 
roads outside the town — to convey the delegates to 
breakfast ; the irregular troops of the whole province 
had been mobilised to line the way. 

It was a grand and startling spectacle. My companion 
and I waited behind for some minutes in our carriage 
until the formal greetings were at an end and the dele- 
gates were clear of the station. Then we crossed the 
platform into the square. It was quite empty and quite 
silent. On three sides stood the Abyssinian soldiers ; 
in front, where the main avenue led up to the governor’s 
house, the last of the cars was just disappearing ; as 
far as one could see stood the ranks of motionless, white- 
clothed tribesmen, bareheaded, barefooted, with guns on 
their shoulders ; some had olive skins and keen aquiline 
features ; others were darker, with thick lips and flat 
noses showing the infection of slave blood ; most of 
them were of good height and strong physique ; all wore 
curly black beards. Their dress was the invariable 
costume of the country — a long white shirt, white linen 
breeches loose above the knee and tight at the calves like 
Jodhpurs, and the chamma^ a white shawl worn like the 
toga over one shoulder, and a bandolier of cartridges 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


25 

prominently displayed. In front of each, section stood 
their chief in the gala dress so frequently photographed 
for the European Press. This, varying in grandeur with 
the wearer’s wealth, consisted of a head-dress of lion’s 
mane and gold ornament, a lion’s skin, a brilliantly 
striped shirt, and a long sword curving out behind for 
some three feet or more ; in some cases the lion’s skin 
was represented by a garment of embroidered satin, 
like a chasuble, slit in front and behind in conventionalised 
tail and legs. It was a memorable experience to emerge, 
after the Latin holiday-making on the Azay le Rideau, 
the scramble at Djibouti, and the unquiet night in the 
train, into the sweet early morning air and the peace cast 
by these motionless warriors ; they seemed at once so 
savage and so docile ; great shaggy dogs of uncertain 
temper held for the moment firmly at leash. 

We breakfasted at the hotel, and smoked a pipe on 
the terrace, awaiting the return of the delegates. Pre- 
sently the soldiers who had been squatting on their 
haunches were called to attention ; the cars came down 
the hill bearing diplomats handsomely refreshed by a 
banquet of porridge, kippers, eggs, and champagne. We 
returned to the train and resumed our journey. 

From now until Hawash, where we arrived at sun- 
down, the line ran through mile upon mile of featureless 
bush country — thorn, scrub, and flat, brownish mimosa- 
trees, and dust, ant-hills, a few vultures, now and then a 
dry watercourse or outcrop of stone, nothing else, hour 
upon hour. At intervals we stopped for water at stations 
consisting of a single shed and barbed wire compound ; 
here there was always a guard drawn up to meet us, two 
or three uniformed railway police and the local chief 
with his levy of sometimes a dozen, sometimes fifty, 
men. At noon we lunched in a tent at a halt named 
Afdem ; luncheon consisted of four courses of meat 
variously prepared. We waited four hours at Hawash, 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


26 

from six until ten, while mechanics experimented with 
the lighting of the train ; an armed guard squatted at 
the door of each coach. There are several sheds at 
Hawash, two or three bungalows of railway officials, a 
concrete platform, and an inn. After dinner we sat in the 
yard of the inn on hard little chairs, or paced about the 
platform or stumbled between the steel sleepers of the 
permanent way ; there was no village or street ; it was 
better to keep in the open as there were fewer mosquitoes ; 
the lights in the carriage windows flashed feverishly on 
and off. Presently a group of ragged Gallas appeared 
and began a dance ; two performed in the centre of the 
circle ; the others stood round singing, stamping their 
feet and clapping their hands ; they acted a lion hunt in 
dumb show. The guards wanted to drive them away, 
but the Egyptian Minister restrained them and gave a 
handful of dollars to the dancers ; this set them going 
more eagerly and they spun about in the dust like tops ; 
they were extremely fierce men, their long hair matted 
with butter and mud, and their thin, black bodies hung 
with scraps of skin and sacking. 

At last the lighting was put right and we started again. 
Hawash lies at the foot of the highlands ; throughout 
the night we climbed steadily. Each time we were jolted 
into consciousness between intermittent periods of sleep, 
we found the air fresher and the temperature lower, and 
by early morning we had wrapped ourselves in rugs and 
overcoats. We breakfasted before dawn at a place called 
Mojo and resumed our journey just as the first light began 
to break. It revealed a profound change in the landscape ; 
the bush and plain had disappeared, and in its place there 
extended crests of undulating downland with a horizon 
of blue mountains. Wherever one looked were rich little 
farms, groups of circular thatched huts inside high 
stockades, herds of fine humped cattle browsing in deep 
pastures, fields of corn and maize being worked by 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


27 

families ; camel caravans swayed along the track by the 
railway, carrying fodder and fuel. The line still mounted, 
and presently, between nine and ten, we came in sight, 
far ahead of us, of the eucalyptus-woods that siirround 
Addis Ababa. Here, at a station named Akaki, where an 
Indian merchant maintains a great warehouse and a ras 
had constructed a great part of what was to be an hotel, 
we stopped again to allow the delegates time to shave and 
put on their uniforms. Tin trunks and dressing-cases 
appeared again, valets ran between the luggage-van and 
the sleeping-cars. The Dutch Minister soon appeared 
at the side of the line in cocked hat and gold braid, the 
Egyptian in taboosh and epaulettes, the Japanese in 
evening coats and white waistcoats and top hats ; the 
chiefs inspected their subordinates ; then all got into the 
train again and proceeded. We puifed up the winding 
track for another half-hour and at last arrived at Addis 
Ababa. 

The station is a large, two-storied, concrete building 
with a single covered platform. Red carpet had been put 
out, and before the carpet were drawn up a very different 
body of troops from those we had passed on the way. 
These were squat, coal-black boys from the Soudanese 
border. They wore brand-new, well-cut, khaki uni- 
forms ; the lion of Judah shone in polished brass on cap 
badges and buttons ; with bayonets fixed and rifles of 
recent pattern. Beside them a band of bugle and drums, 
with a little black drummer poising crossed sticks above 
the big drum. But for the bare feet below their puttees, 
they might have been the prize platoon of some Public 
School O.T.C. In front of them with drawn sword 
stood a European officer. This was a squad of Tafari’s 
own guard. Hardly had the blood congealed on Gougsa’s 
mangled corpse, or the bereaved empress succumbed to 
her sudden chill, before orders had been issued for the 
formation of this corps. Officers had come from Belgium 



28 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


to undertake the training. The men had been recruited 
from Tafari’s own scattered provinces, bound to the 
throne by direct feudal allegiance. In six months he had 
trained a regiment of them - the nucleus of an organised 
national army. 

As the train stopped, the guard presented arms ; the 
head chamberlain advanced in a blue satin cloak to greet 
the delegations, and the band struck up. This, too, was 
an innovation. It is my misfortune to be quite insensible 
to music, but I was told by aU who heard them that the 
tunes played as each delegation was received were, in 
practically all cases, easily recognisable. One thing I did 
realise, and that was their unusual length ; there was no 
skimping of difficulties, every anthem was played through 
thoroughly verse by verse. The Poles came out easy 
winners in prolixity. Finally the Ethiopian anthem was 
played ; we heard this so often during the next ten days 
that it became vaguely familiar, even to me. (It began 
like the Hymn “Lights above celestial Salem,” but ended 
quite differently.) 

Eventually the last delegation disappears. The 
Minister’s daughters have come from the British Lega- 
tion to meet the train. They ask me what arrangements 
have been made for my accommodation, and I reply, to 
the best of my knowledge, none. Consternation. They 
say that the town is completely full. It will be impossible 
to get a room now. It is possible there may be a tent 
somewhere at the legation ; it is conceivable that one 
of the hotels will let me pitch it in their yard. We get 
into the car and mount the hill into the town. Half-way 
up we pass the Hbtel de France. At the entrance stands 
the supremely Western figure of Irene Ravensdale in rid- 
ing habit. We stop to greet her. I run indoors and ask 
the manager whether there is, by any chance, a vacant 
room. Why, yes, certainly. It is not a very good room, 
it is in an outhouse behind the hotel ; but, if I care to 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


29 

take it, it is mine for two poimds a day. I accept eagerly, 
sign the register, and rejoin Irene. The legation car and 
the luggage has disappeared. Instead, the street is full 
of Abyssinians arriving from the country on mules, slaves 
trotting all round them, clearing and obstructing the way. 
We return to the hotel, lunch, and go to sleep. Later the 
luggage turns up in the charge of a good-hearted young 
Englishman, who, having failed as a coffee farmer, has 
been engaged temporarily at the legation as general 
help. The preposterous ji/ice in Wonderland fortnight 
has begim. 


TWO 

In fact, it is to Alice in Wonderland that my thoughts recur 
in seeking some historical parallel for life in Addis Ababa. 
There are others ; Israel in the time of Saul, the Scotland 
of Shakespeare’s Macheth, the Sublime Porte as one sees 
it revealed in the despatches of the late eighteenth cen- 
tury, but it is in Alice only that one finds the peculiar flav- 
our of galvanised and translated reality, where animals 
carry watches in their waistcoat pockets, royalty paces the 
croquet lawn beside the chief executioner, and litigation 
ends in a flutter of playing-cards. How to recaptvure, how 
retail, the crazy enchantment of these Ethiopian days ? 

First let me attempt to convey some idea of the setting. 
Addis Ababa is a new town ; so new, indeed, that not a 
single piece of it appears to be really finished. Menelik 
the Great chose the site forty years ago and named it, 
when it was still a hillside encampment, “ The New 
Flower.” Till then the Government had shifted between 
the ancient, priest-ridden cities of the north, mobile ac- 
cording to the exigencies of fuel, but morally centred on 
Axum, the ecclesiastical capital, as the French monarchy 
centred on Rheims. Menelik was the first king to break 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


30 

the tradition of coronation at Axum, and at the time even 
his vast military prestige suffered from the breach. It 
is mentioned by contemporary writers as a source of weak- 
ness ; actually it was a necessary part of his policy. He 
was no longer merely king of the Christian, Amharic 
highlanders, he was emperor of a great territory embrac- 
ing in the west the black pagan Shankallas, in the east 
the nomad anthropohagous Danakils, in the south-east 
the Ogaden desert inhabited by Somalis, and in the 
south the great belt of cultivable land held by the 
Mohammedan Gallas. At Addis Ababa he found the 
new centre for his possessions, still in the highlands 
among his own people, but on their extreme edge ; 
immediately at its foot lies the territory of the wretched 
Guratchi, the despised, ill-conditioned people who pro- 
vide the labour for building and sweeping ; Hawash is 
the land of the Gallas. Addis Ababa is the strategic 
point for the control of these discordant dominions. Lej 
Yasu contemplated a further, more radical change. It 
appears to have been his purpose, or the purpose of his 
coimsellors, to re-orientate the empire from Harar and 
build up a great Mohammedan Power which should in 
the event of the victory of the Central Powers in Europe, 
enclose the whole Somali coast-line. It was an intem- 
perate ambition which needed no European intervention 
to encompass its downfall. The exact circumstances of 
his failure may, perhaps, never be known, nor the extent 
to which these plans were even clearly formulated. It is 
certain that he was in correspondence with the Mad 
Mullah in British Somaliland. It is widely believed that 
he had in his last years frankly apostatised from the 
Church ; his father’s Mohammedan origin added colour 
to this report, and proof was supplied in the form of his 
portrait wearing a turban which purported to have been 
taken at Harar. Many, however, declare that this con- 
clusive piece of evidence was fabricated in Addis Ababa 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


31 

by an Armenian photographer. Whatever the truth of 
these details, the fact is clear that the unfortunate young 
man fell, not, as is usually said, through his grosser 
habits of life, which, indeed, tended rather to endear him 
to his humbler subjects, but through his neglect of what 
must remain for many years to come the strength of the 
Ethiopian Empire — its faith and the warlike qualities of 
the Amharic hillsmen. Lej Yasu has not been seen since 
1916. He is said to be living, listless and morbidly 
obese, under Ras Kassa’s guardianship at Fiche, but a 
traveller who lately passed the reputed house of his 
captivity remarked that the roof was out of repair and 
the entrance overgrown with weeds. People do not 
readily speak of him, for the whole country is policed with 
spies, but more than one European who enjoyed the con- 
fidence of his servants told me that the name is still 
greatly respected among the lower orders. He has, 
through his mother, the true blood of Menelik. They 
describe him as a burly young man with compelling eyes, 
recklessly generous and superbly dissipated. Tafari’s 
astute diplomacy strikes some of them as far less kingly. 

There was no constitution in Ethiopia. The succession 
was determined in theory by royal proclamation, in practice 
by bloodshed. Menelik had left no male and no legiti- 
mate children. Lej Yasu’s mother was his daughter and 
he had nominated Lej Yasu. In the circumstances, Lej 
Yasu had named no successor and there was thus no in- 
disputable heir. By right of Menelik’s blood, his second 
daughter reigned as the Empress Zauditu, but her reli- 
gious duties occupied more of her attention than the 
routine of government. A regent was necessary ; three 
or four noblemen had, by descent, equal claims to the 
office. The most important of these was Ras Kassa, but 
deeply concerned with religion and the management of his 
estates, he was unambitious of wider obligations. The 
danger which confronted the country was that Menelik’s 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


32 

conquests would again disintegrate into a handful of small 
kingdoms, and that the imperial throne would become 
a vague overlordship. In such a condition, Abyssinian 
independence could scarcely hope to survive the pene- 
tration of European commercial interests. The rases 
appreciated the position and realised that there was only 
one man whose rank, education, intellect, and ambition 
qualified him for the throne. This was Ras Tafari. Ac- 
cordingly, by their consent and choice, he became negus. 
With die general public, outside his own provinces, his 
prestige was slight ; he was distinguished neither by the 
blood of Menelik nor any ostentatious feat of arms. 
Among the rases he -wSiS primus inter pares ; one of them- 
selves chosen to do a job, and answerable to them for its 
satisfactory execution. From this precarious position in 
the years that followed, Tafari gradually built up and con- 
solidated his supremacy. He travelled in Europe ; he 
was at pains to impress visiting Europeans with his en- 
lightenment. He played on the rivalries of the French 
and Italian representatives, and secured his own position 
at home by advancing his country’s position in the world. 
He obtained admission to the League of Nations ; every- 
where he identified himself with his country, until Europe 
came to look to him as its natural ruler. 

Even so, he had to fight for his throne. In the spring 
of 1930 a powerful noble named Ras Gougsa‘ rebelled. 
He was the husband of the empress ; they had been 
divorced, but maintained cordial and intimate relations. 
Tafari’s army was victorious, and, in the bloodthirsty 
rout, Gougsa was himself slain. The empress died sud- 
denly next day, and Tafari, with the assent of the rases, 
proclaimed himself emperor, fixing for his coronation the 
earliest date by which preparations could adequately be 

* There is a Ras Gougsa, quite unconnected with the rebel, who is still 
living. He acted as host to the American delegation during the corona- 
tion. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 33 

made. The coronation festivities were thus the final 
move in a long and well-planned strategy. Still main- 
taining his double ruff of trumping at home with prestige 
abroad, abroad with his prestige at home, Tafari had two 
main motives behind the display. He wished to impress 
on his European visitors that Ethiopia was no mere 
agglomeration of barbarous tribes open to foreign ex- 
ploitation, but a powerful, organised, modern State. He 
wanted to impress on his own countrymen that he was no 
paramount chief of a dozen independent communities, 
but an absolute monarch recognised on equal terms by 
the monarchies and governments of the great world. 
And if, in the minds of any of his simpler subjects, cour- 
tesy and homage became at all confused, if the impres- 
sion given was that these braided delegates (out for a 
holiday from their serious duties, an unusual pageant, 
and perhaps a few days’ shooting) had come in their 
ruler’s name to pay tribute to Ethiopian supremacy — so 
much the better. The dismembered prisoners of Adowa 
were still unavenged. The disconcertingly eager response 
of the civilised Powers gave good colour to this preten- 
sion. “ We did not think so much of Tafari,” remarked 
the servant of one Englishman, “ until we learned that 
your king was sending his own son to the coronation ” ; 
and there can be no doubt that the other rases, confronted 
at close quarters with the full flood of European diplo- 
macy, realised more clearly that other qualities were 
needed for the government of a modern State than large 
personal property and descent from Solomon. This very 
exuberance, however, of European interest tended to 
hinder the accomplishment of the emperor’s first ambi- 
tion. The gun-cases were his undoing, for in the days 
that followed the celebrations, when the delegations were 
scattered on safari about the interior of the country, they 
had the opportunity of observing more than had been 
officially prepared for them. They saw just how far the 

Cp 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


34 

emperor’s word ran in the more distant parts of his 
dominions ; they saw the frail lines of communication 
which bound the Government to its outposts ; they saw 
something of the real character of the people, and realised 
how inadequate an introduction to the national life were 
the caviare and sweet champagne of Addis Ababa. 

I have said above that the coronation was fixed for the 
earliest date by which preparations could be made. This 
statement needs some qualification and brings me back 
from this political digression to the description of Addis 
Ababa with which I began the chapter, for the first, 
obvious, inescapable impression was that nothing was 
ready or could possibly be made ready in time for the 
official opening of the celebrations six days hence. It 
was not that one here and there observed traces of im- 
perfect completion, occasional scaffolding or patches of 
unset concrete ; the whole town seemed still in a rudi- 
mentary stage of construction. At every corner were 
half-finished buildings ; some had been already aban- 
doned ; on others, gangs of ragged Guraghi were at 
work. It is difficult to convey in words any real idea of the 
inefficiency to which low diet and ill-will had reduced 
these labourers. One afternoon I watched a number of 
them, twenty or thirty in all, under the surveillance of an 
Armenian contractor, at work clearing away the heaps of 
rubble and stone which encumbered the courtyard before 
the main door of the palace. The stuff had to be packed 
into wooden boxes swung between two poles, and emptied 
on a pile fifty yards away. Two men carried each load, 
which must have weighed very little more than an ordin- 
ary hod of bricks. A foreman circulated among them, 
carrying a long cane. When he was engaged elsewhere 
the work stopped altogether. The men did not sit down, 
chat, or relax in any way ; they simply stood stock-still 
where they were, motionless as cows in a field, sometimes 



REMOTE PEOPLE 35 

arrested with one small stone in their hands. When the 
foreman turned his attention towards them they began to 
move again, very deliberately, like figures in a slow- 
motion film ; when he beat them they did not look round 
or remonstrate, but quickened their movements just 
perceptibly ; when the blows ceased they lapsed into 
their original pace until, the foreman’s back being turned, 
they again stopped completely. (I wondered whether the 
Pyramids were built in this way.) Work of this nature 
was in progress in every street and square of the town. 

Addis Ababa extends five or six miles in diameter. It 
lies at a height of eight thousand feet, with a circle of 
larger hills to the north of it, culminating at Entoto in a 
mountain of about ten thousand. The station is at the 
southern extremity of the town, and from it a broad road 
leads up to the post office and principal commercial 
buildings. Two deep watercourses traverse the town, 
and round their slopes, and in small groves of eucalyptus 
scattered between the more permanent buildings, lie 
little clusters of tukah, round native huts, thatched and 
windowless. Down the centre of the main thoroughfares 
run metalled tracks for motor-traffic, bordered on either 
side by dust and loose stones for mules and pedestrians ; 
at frequent intervals are sentry-boxes of corrugated iron, 
inhabited by drowsy, armed policemen ; there are also 
police at point duty, better trained than most of the motor- 
drivers in European signals of control. Attempts are 
even made, with canes and vigorous exchanges of abuse, 
to regulate the foot-traffic, a fad which proves wholly 
unintelligible to the inhabitants. The usual way for an 
Abyssinian gentleman to travel is straight down the 
middle of the road on mule-back with ten or twenty armed 
retainers trotting all round him ; there are continual 
conflicts between the town police and the followers of 
the country gentleman, from which the police often come 
out the worse. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


36 

Every man in Abyssinia carries arms ; that is to say, 
he wears a dagger and bandolier of cartridges round his 
waist and has a slave-boy walking behind with a rifle. 
There is some question about the efficacy of these 
weapons, which are mostly of some antiquity. Some are 
of the Martini type, probably salvaged from the field of 
Adowa, others are comparatively modern, bolt-action 
weapons and old, English service-rifles. They have 
percolated through singly from Somaliland and been 
brought in, disguised as other merchandise, by such 
romantic gun-runners as Arthure Rimbaud and M. de 
Montfried. Cartridges are a symbol of wealth and, in 
the interior, a recognised medium of exchange ; their 
propriety for any particular brand of firearm is a matter of 
secondary importance ; often the brass ammunition dis- 
played in the bandoliers will not fit the rifle carried be- 
hind, and there is usually a large percentage of expended 
cartridges among it. 

The streets are always a lively scene ; the universal 
white costume being here and there relieved by the 
brilliant blues and violets of mourning or the cloaks of 
the upper classes. The men walk about hand in hand in 
pairs and little groups ; quite often they are supporting 
some insensible drunkard. Women appear in the 
markets, but take no part in the general street-lounging 
of their men. Occasionally a woman of high degree 
passes on a mule ; tmder a vast felt hat her face is com- 
pletely bandaged over with white silk, so that only the two 
eyes appear, like those of a hooded rider of the Ku Klux 
Klan. There are numerous priests, distinguished by 
long gowns and high turbans. Sometimes the emperor 
passes in a great red car surrounded by cantering 
lancers. A page sits behind holding over his head 
an umbrella of crimson silk embroidered with sequins 
and gold tassels. A guard sits in front nursing a 
machine-gun under a plush shawl ; the chauffeur is 



REMOTE PEOPLE 37 

a European wearing powder-blue livery and the star 
of Ethiopia. 

There are open fields immediately round the station, 
broken on one side by the thin roof of the public baths, 
where a spring wells up scalding hot. It is from here 
that the water is conveyed in petrol-cans for our baths at 
the hotel. On the other side of the road stands the 
execution shed. Public hanging has recently been 
abolished in Tafari’s own provinces, and the gibbet-tree 
before the cathedral cut down to make room for a little 
(unfinished) garden and a statue of Menelik. Homicides 
are now shot behind closed doors, though the bereaved 
relatives still retain the right of carrying out the sentence. 
No distinction is made in Abyssinian law between man- 
slaughter and murder ; both are treated as offences 
against the family of the dead man. It is for them to 
choose whether they will take blood-money or blood ; 
the price varies with the social status of the deceased, but 
is usually about a thousand dollars or £86). Occa- 
sionally the murderer prefers to die rather than pay. 
There was a case in Addis Ababa shortly before our 
arrival in which the bargaining was continued .n the 
execution shed right up to the firing of the shot ; the 
relatives abating their price dollar by dollar, the murderer 
steadfastly refusing to deprive his children of their full 
inheritance. 

As part of the general policy for tidying up the town 
for the arrival of the visitors, high stockades have been 
erected, or are being erected, down all the streets, screen- 
ing from possibly critical eyes the homes of the poorer 
inhabitants. Half-way up the hill stands the Hdtel de 
France, a place of primitive but cordial hospitality, kept 
by a young Frenchman and his wife who have seen better 
days as traders in hides and coffee at Djibouti. At the 
top of the hill, in front of the post office, two main roads 
branch out to right and left, the one leading to the Gebbi 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


38 

(Tafari’s palace), the other to the native bazaar and Indian 
quarter. Work is in progress at the cross-roads making 
a paved and balustraded island round a concrete cenotaph 
which is destined to commemorate the late empress. A 
fourth road leads obliquely to Gorgis, the cathedral of 
St. George. 

The buildings are mostly of concrete and corrugated 
iron. There is another large hotel kept by a Greek, the 
Imperial, most of which has been requisitioned for the 
Egyptian delegation. There are two or three small 
hotels, caf6s, and bars, kept either by Greeks or Armen- 
ians. There is another large hotel under construction. 
It was being made specially for the coronation, but is 
still hopelessly unready. It is here that the Marine band 
of H.M.S. Effingham are put up. A night-club advertises 
that it will open shortly with a cabaret straight from the 
Winter Garden Theatre in Munich ; it is called Haile 
Selassie (Power of the Trinity). This is the new name 
which the emperor has assumed among his other titles ; 
a heavy fine is threatened to anyone overheard referring 
to him as Tafari. The words have become variously 
corrupted by the European visitors to “ Highly Sal- 
acious ” and “ I love a lassie ” — this last the inspiration 
of a R.A.C. mechanic. 

The bank and the manager’s house are the two most 
solid buildings in the town ; they stand behind a high 
wall in a side street between the two hotels. Round them 
are the two or three villas of the European traders, the 
bank officials, and the English chaplain. The shops 
are negligible ; wretched tin stores, kept by Indians and 
Armenians, peddling tinned foods, lumps of coarse soap, 
and tarnished hardware. There is one shop of interest 
near the bank, kept by a French-speaking Abyssinian. 
It is called “ Curiosities ” and exhibits anything from 
monkey-skins and cheap native jewellery to Amharic 
illuminated manuscripts of antiquity. Here I bought 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


39 

a number of modern Abyssinian paintings, mostly 
either hunting-scenes or intensely savage battle-pictures. 
Painting is more or less a hereditary craft in Abyssinia. 
It is in regular demand for ecclesiastical decoration. The 
churches of Abyssinia are all built on the same plan of a 
square inner sanctuary enclosed in two concentric ambula- 
tories ; sometimes the outside plan is octagonal, some- 
times circular. It is very rarely that anyone except the 
priests is allowed to see into the sanctuary. Attention is 
concentrated on its walls, which are covered with frescoes. 
The designs are traditional and are copied and recopied, 
generation after generation, with slight variation. A^en 
they begin to grow shabby and the church can afford it, a 
painter is called in to repaint them, as in Europe one 
calls in the paperhanger. In the intervals of executing 
these commissions the more skilful painters keep their 
hands in by doing secular work on sheets of linen or 
skins ; these too are traditional in composition, but the 
artist is allowed more freedom in detail. His chief con- 
cern is to bring the old patterns up to date, and this he 
does, irrespective of historical propriety, by the intro- 
duction of topees, aeroplanes, and bombs. The secre- 
tary of the American Legation gave me a particularly 
delightful representation of the death of the Harar giant ; 
this story is a very early mediaeval legend, probably 
connected with the wars against the Arabs, but the artist 
has drawn the giant-slayers with the khaki uniforms and 
fixed bayonets of Tafari’s latest guard — a happy change 
after the stale, half-facetious, pre-Raphaelite archaism 
that seems ineradicable in English taste. 

The Gebbi is a great jumble of buildings on a hill to 
the east of the town. At night, during coronation week, 
it was lit up with rows of electric bulbs, but by day it 
presented a slightly dingy appearance. The nucleus 
consists of a stone building containing a throne-room 
and banqueting-hall ; a glazed corridor runs down one 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


40 

side, many of the panes were broken and all were dirty ; 
the front is furnished with a double staircase and por- 
tico, clearly of classic sympathies. It was made for 
Menelik by a French architect, (It might well have 
been the h6tel de ville of some French provincial town.) 
In front of this is an untidy courtyard, irregular in 
shape, littered with loose stones and blown paper, and, 
all round it, sheds and outbuildings of all kinds and sizes ; 
tin guard-houses, a pretty thatched chapel, barn-like ap- 
partments of various Court officials, servants’ quarters, 
laundry and kitchens, a domed mausoleum in debased 
Byzantine style, a look-out tower and a barrack square. 
High walls encircle the whole, and the only approach, 
through which came alike butchers and ambassadors, is 
through two heavily guarded doors. In spite of this, the 
precincts seemed to be always full of loafers, squatting 
and squabbling, or gaping at the visitors. 

The American Legation is not far from the centre of 
the town, but the British, French, and Italians all live 
beyond the racecourse, five or six miles out. Menelik 
chose the site of the concession, and the reason usually 
given for their remoteness is to ensure their safety in 
case of trouble. In point of fact, they are wholly inde- 
fensible, and, if an attack were ever made on them, would 
be unable to withstand half a day’s siege. The social 
result, for better or worse, has been to divorce the diplo- 
matic corps from the general life of the town. It may be 
this that Menelik desired. 

It is now possible to reach the British Legation by 
car ; until quite lately guests rode out to dinner on mules, 
a boy running in front with a lantern. Indeed, as further 
preparation for the visitors, the road from the town had 
been strewn with stones, and a motor-roller of the 
latest pattern brought from Europe ; this machine was 
sometimes seen heading for the legations, but some unto- 
ward event always interposed, and the greater part of the 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


41 

way was left to be rolled by the tyres of private cars. It 
was an expensive and bumpy journey. 

The legation stands in a small park with the consulate 
next to it, and on either side of the drive a little garden 
city has sprung up of pretty thatched bungalows which 
accommodate the other officials. During the coronation 
a camp was pitched in the paddock for the staffs of the 
various visitors, and periodic bugling, reminiscent of an 
ocean liner, added a fresh incongruity to the bizarre life 
of the little community. At normal times this consisted 
of the Minister, lately arrived from Shanghai, a Chinese 
scholar whose life’s work had been in the Far East ; the 
secretary, lately arrived from Constantinople ; the consul, 
lately arrived from Fez, an authority and enthusiast in 
Mohammedan law (none of these had yet had time to 
learn any Amharic) ; the archivist, who had spent five 
or six years at Addis and knew how to mark out tennis- 
courts ; the vice-consul, who performed prodigies of 
skill in sorting out luggage and looking up trains, des- 
pite the fact that he was all the time seriously ill from the 
after-effects of blackwater fever, and the oriental secre- 
tary, whom a perfect command of Amharic and fair 
smattering of English made invaluable as official inter- 
preter. 

Besides the officials and officers of all grades who now 
swelled the household, a substantial family party of 
uncles, aunts, and cousins had come out from England 
to see the fun. Housekeeping assumed a scale unpre- 
cedented in Addis Ababa, but all moved smoothly ; a 
cook was specially imported from London who, happily 
enough, turned out to be named Mr. Cook ; the invita- 
tion cards from the British Legation greatly surpassed 
those of all other nations in thickness, area, and propriety 
of composition, and when it was discovered that by an 
engraver’s error the name Haile had become Hath (the 
name of the most formidable of the rival rases) no pains 



42 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


were spared to correct each card in pen and ink ; the 
Duke’s luggage was no sooner lost by one official than it 
was recovered by another. Everything bore witness to 
the triumph of Anglo-Saxon organisation. 

Outside the legations was a personnel of supreme 
diversity. There was the Caucasian manager of the Haile 
Selassie Casino ; the French editor of the Courier 
d'Ethiopie^ an infinitely helpful man, genial, punctilious, 
sceptical ; an Englishman in the employ of the Abys- 
sinian Government, debonair of appearance, but morbidly 
ill at ease in the presence of journalists before whom he 
might betray himself into some indiscretion •, a French 
architect married to an Abyssinian ; a bankrupt German 
planter obsessed by grievances ; a tipsy old Australian 
prospector, winking over his whiskey and hinting at the 
mountains full of platinum he could tell you about if he 
cared to. There was Mr. Hall, in whose office I spent 
many frantic hours ; he was a trader, of mixed German 
and Abyssinian descent, extremely handsome, well 
dressed, and monocled, a man of imperturbable courtesy, 
an exceptional linguist. During the coronation he had 
been put in a little tin house next to the Casino and con- 
stituted chief, and, as far as one could see, sole member, 
of a bureau d' Strangers. It was his week’s task to listen 
to all the troubles of all the foreigners, official or unofficial, 
to distribute news to the Press, issue tickets and make out 
lists for the Abyssinian functions ; if the Italian tele- 
graph company took an hour’s rest, it was Mr. Hall who 
heard the complaints ; if an officious police-officer re- 
fused someone admittance to some grand stand, Mr. Hall 
must see to it that the officer was reprimanded ; if His 
Majesty’s Stationery Office forgot to issue the text of the 
coronation service, Mr. Hall promised everyone a copy ; 
if a charabanc had not arrived to take the band to the 
racecourse, if there had not been enough coronation 
medals to go round the church, if, for any reason or no 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


43 

reason, anyone in Addis Ababa was in a bad temper — 
and at that altitude the most equable natures become un- 
accountably upset — off he went to Mr. Hall. And what- 
ever language he cared to speak, Mr. Hall would under- 
stand and sympathise ; with almost feminine delicacy 
he would calm him and compliment him ; with mascu- 
line decision he would make a bold note of the affair on 
his pad ; he would rise, bow, and smile his pacified 
visitor out with every graceful assurance of goodwill — 
and do absolutely nothing about it. 

Of the Abyssinians we saw very little except as grave, 
rather stolid figures at the official receptions. There was 
Ras Hailu, owner of the rich province of Gojam, reputed 
wealthier than the emperor himself ; a commanding 
figure, dark complexioned, with his little pointed beard 
dyed black, and slightly insolent eyes. Among his many 
great possessions was a night-club two miles out on the 
Addis Alem road. He had planned this himself and, 
wishing to be up to date, had given it an English name. 
It was called “ Robinson.” There was the venerable 
Ras Kassa and Moulungetta, the commander-in-chief of 
the army, a mountain of a man with grey beard and blood- 
shot eyes ; in full-dress uniform with scarlet-and-gold 
cloak and lion's mane busby, he looked hardly human ; 
there was George Herui, son of the Minister of Foreign 
Affairs, the product of an English university — a slight 
young man Messed with great elegance either in Euro- 
pean clothes or in the uniform of a Court page ; his 
father stood high in the emperor’s confidence ; George’s 
interests, however, seemed mainly Parisian. 

Apart from the officials and journalists who pullu- 
lated at every corner, there were sxarprisingly few visitors. 
At one time Messrs. Thomas Cook & Company were 
advertising a personally conducted tour, an announce- 
ment which took a great deal of the romance out of our 
expedition. The response was considerable, but when 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


44 

their agent arrived it soon became apparent that the en- 
terprise was impracticable ; there was no certainty of 
transport or accommodation, and, with soaring prices 
and fluctuating currency, it was impossible to give an 
estimate of the expenses involved. So the tour was can- 
celled, but the agent remained, a cocksure, dapper little 
Italian, an unfailing source of inaccurate information on 
all local topics. 

There was a slightly class-conscious lady with a French 
title and an American accent, who left the town suddenly 
after a luncheon-party at which she was not accorded her 
proper precedence. There was the American professor, 
who will appear later in this narrative, and two for- 
midable ladies in knitted suits and topees ; though 
unrelated by blood, long companionship had made them 
almost indistinguishable, square-jawed, tight-lipped, with 
hard, discontented eyes. For them the whole coronation 
was a profound disappointment. What did it matter 
that they were witnesses of a unique stage of the inter- 
penetration of two cultures ? They were out for Vice. 
They were collecting material, in fact, for a little book on 
the subject, an African Mother India, and every minute 
devoted to Coptic ritual or displays of horsemanship was 
a minute wasted. Prostitution and drug traffic comprised 
their modest interests, and they were too dense to find 
evidence of either. 

But perhaps the most remarkable visitors were the 
Marine band. At first the emperor had intended to im- 
port a European dance-band from Cairo, but the estimate 
for fees and expenses was so discouraging that he decided 
instead to issue an invitation to the band of H.M.S. 
Effingham to attend the coronation as his guests and to 
play at the various functions. They arrived on the same 
day as the Duke of Gloucester, under the command of 
Major Sinclair, strengthened by a diet of champagne at 
breakfast, luncheon, tea, and dinner throughout their 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


45 

journey, and much sage advice about the propriety of 
their behaviour in a foreign capital. At Addis they were 
quartered in a large, unfinished hotel ; each man had his 
own bedroom, furnished by his thoughtful hosts with 
hairbrushes, clothes-hangers, and brand-new enamelled 
spittoons. 

Perhaps no one did more to deserve his star of Ethiopia 
than Major Sinclair. Eschewing the glitter and dignity 
of the legation camp, he loyally remained with his men 
in the town, and spent anxious days arranging appoint- 
ments that were never kept ; his diary, which some of us 
were privileged to see, was a stark chronicle of successive 
disappointments patiently endured. “ Appointment 9.30 
emperor's private secretary to arrange for this evenings ban- 
quet ; he did not come. 1 1. Went as arranged to see master 
of the king’s music ; he was not there. 1 2. Went to see Mr. 
Hall to obtain score of Ethiopian national anthem — not pro- 
curable. 2.30. Car should have come to take men to aero- 
drome — did not arrive . . .” and so on. But, in spite of 
every discouragement, the band was always present on 
time, irreproachably dressed, and provided with the 
correct music. 

One morning in particular, on which the band played 
a conspicuous part, remains vividly in my memory as 
typical of the whole week. It was the first day of the 
official celebrations, to be inaugurated by the unveiling 
of the new Menelik memorial. The ceremony was 
announced for ten o’clock. Half an hour before the 
time, Irene Ravensdale and I drove to the spot. Here, 
on the site of the old execution-tree, stood the monument, 
shrouded in brilliant green silk. Round it was a little 
ornamental garden with paving, a balustrade, and regular 
plots, from which, here and there, emerged delicate 
shoots of newly sown grass. While some workmen were 
laying carpets on the terrace and spreading yellow sun- 
shades of the kind which cover the tables at open-air 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


46 

restaurants, others were still chipping at the surrounding 
masonry and planting drooping palm-trees in the arid 
beds. A heap of gilt armchairs lay on one side ; on the 
other a mob of photographers and movietone men were 
fighting for places. Opposite the carpeted terrace rose a 
stand of several unstable tiers. A detachment of police- 
men were engaged furiously laying about them with 
canes in the attempt to keep these seats clear of natives. 
Four or five Europeans were already established there. 
Irene and I joined them. Every ten minutes or so a 
police officer would appear and order us all off ; we 
produced our laissez-passers ; he saluted and went away, 
to be succeeded at a short interval by a colleague, when 
the performance was repeated. 

The square and half a mile of the avenue approaching 
it were lined with royal guards ; there was a band formed 
up in front of them ; the Belgian colonel curvetted about 
on an uneasy chestnut horse. Presently, punctual to the 
minute, appeared Major Sinclair and his band. They 
had had to march from their hotel, as the charabanc 
ordered for them had failed to appear. They halted, and 
Major Sinclair approached the Belgian colonel for 
instructions. The colonel knew no English, and the 
major no French ; an embarrassing interview followed, 
complicated by the caprices of the horse, which plunged 
backwards and sideways over the square. In this way 
the two officers covered a large area of ground, conversing 
inconclusively the while with extravagant gestures. 
Eventually Irene heroically stepped out to interpret for 
them. It appeared that the Belgian colonel had had no 
orders about the English band. He had his own band 
there and did not want another. The major explained 
he had had direct instructions to appear in the square at 
ten. The colonel said the major could not possibly stay 
in the square ; there was no room for him, and anyway 
he would have no opportunity of playing, since the native 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


47 

band had a programme of music fully adequate for the 
whole proceedings. (Knowing that band’s tendency to 
repetition, we could well believe it.) At last the colonel 
conceded that the English band might take up a position 
at the extreme end of his troops at the bottom of the hill. 
The officers parted, and the band marched away out of 
sight. A long wait followed, while the battle between 
police and populace raged round the stand. At last the 
delegations began to arrive ; the soldiers presented arms ; 
the native band played the appropriate music ; the 
Belgian colonel was borne momentarily backwards 
through the ranks, capered heroically among the crowd, 
and reappeared at another corner of the square. The 
delegations took up their places on the gilt chairs under 
the umbrellas. A long pause preceded the emperor’s 
arrival ; the soldiers still stood stiff. Suddenly up that 
imposing avenue there appeared a slave, trotting uncon- 
cernedly with a gilt chair on his head. He put it among 
the others, looked round with interest at the glittering 
uniforms, and then retired. At last the emperor came ; 
first a troop of lancers, then the crimson car and silk 
umbrella. He took up his place in the centre of the Court 
under a blue canopy ; the band played the Ethiopian 
national anthem. A secretary presented him with the 
text of his speech ; the camera-men began snapping and 
turning. But there was a fresh delay. Something had 
gone wrong. Messages passed from mouth to mouth ; 
a runner disappeared down the hill. 

One photographer, bolder than the rest, advanced out 
of the crowd and planted his camera within a few yards 
of the royal party ; he wore a violet suit of plus-fours, a 
green shirt open at the neck, tartan stockings, and parti- 
coloured shoes. After a few happy shots of the emperor 
he walked slowly along the line, looking the party critic- 
ally up and down. When he formd anyone who attracted 
his attention, he took a photograph of him. Then, 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


48 

expressing his satisfaction with a slight inclination of the 
head, he rejoined his colleagues. 

Still a delay. Then up the avenue came Major 
Sinclair and the Marine band. They halted in the 
middle of the square, arranged their music, and played 
the national anthem. Things were then allowed to 
proceed according to plan. The emperor advanced, 
read his speech, and pulled the cord. There was a 
rending of silk and a vast equestrian figure in gilt bronze 
was partially revealed. Men appeared with poles and 
poked away the clinging folds. One piece, out of reach 
of their efforts, obstinately fluttered over the horse’s 
ears and eyes. The Greek contractor mounted a ladder 
and dislodged the rag. 

The Marine band continued to play ; the delegations 
and courtiers made for their cars ; the emperor paused, 
and listened attentively to the music, then smiled his 
approval to the major before driving away. As the last 
of the visitors disappeared, the people broke through the 
soldiers, and the square became a dazzle of white tunics 
and black heads. For many days to come, numbers of 
them might be seen clustering round the memorial and 
gazing with puzzled awe at this new ornament to their 
city. 


THREE 

Until late on the preceding afternoon, wild uncertainty 
prevailed about the allocation of tickets for the corona- 
tion. The legations knew nothing. Mr. Hall knew 
nothing, and his ofiice was continuously besieged by 
anxious journalists whose only hope of getting their 
reports back in time for Monday’s papers was to write 
and despatch them well before the event. What could 
they say when they did not even know where the cere- 
mony would take place ? 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


49 

With little disguised irritation they set to work making 
the best of their meagre material. Gorgis and its pre- 
cincts were impenetrably closed ; a huge tent could be 
discerned through the railings, built against one wall of 
the church. Some described the actual coronation as 
taking place there ; others used it as the scene of a state 
reception and drew fanciful pictures of the ceremony in 
the interior of the cathedral, “ murky, almost suffocating 
•with incense and the thick, stiffing smoke of tallow candles ” 
(Associated Press) ; authorities on Coptic ritual remarked 
that as the coronation proper must take place in the inner 
sanctuary, which no layman might glimpse, much less 
enter, there was small hope of anyone seeing anything at 
all, unless, conceivably, exceptions were made of the 
Duke of Gloucester and Prince Udine. The cinema- 
men, whose companies had spent very large sums in 
importing them and their talking apparatus, began to 
show signs of restlessness, and some correspondents 
became almost menacing in their representations of the 
fury of a slighted Press. Mr. Hall, however, remained 
his own serene self. Everything, he assured us, was being 
arranged for our particular convenience ; only, he 
admitted, the exact details were still unsettled. 

Eventually, about fourteen hours before the ceremony 
was due to start, numbered tickets were issued through 
the legations ; there was plenty of room for all, except, as 
it happened, for the Abyssinians themselves. The rases 
and Court officials were provided with gilt chairs, but the 
local chiefs seemed to be wholly neglected ; most of them 
remained outside, gazing wistfully at the ex-Kaiser’s coach 
and the tall hats of the European and American visitors ; 
those that succeeded in pushing their way inside were kept 
far at the back, where they squatted together on their 
haxmches, or, in all the magnificent trappings of their 
gala dress, dozed simply in distant corners of the great 
tent. 

D» 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


5° 

For it was there, in the end, that the service took place. 
“ Tent,” however, gives an incomplete impression of this 
fine pavilion. It was light and lofty, supported by two 
colonnades of draped scaffold-poles ; the east end was 
hung with silk curtains, behind which a sanctuary had 
been improvised to hold the tabor from the cathedral. A 
carpeted dais ran half the length of the floor. On it stood 
the silk-covered table that bore the regalia and the crown 
neatly concealed in a cardboard hat-box ; on either side 
were double rows of gilt chairs for the Court and the 
diplomatic corps, and at the end, with their backs to the 
body of the hall, two canopied thrones, one scarlet for 
the emperor and one blue for the empress. 

Their Majesties had spent the night in vigil, sur- 
rounded inside the cathedral by clergy, and outside by 
troops ; when they entered the tent it was from behind 
the curtains by means of a side door leading directly 
from the cathedral. One enterprising journalist headed 
his report “ Meditation Behind Machine-Guns” and had 
the gratifying experience when he was at last admitted 
into the precincts, of finding his guess fully justified ; a 
machine section was posted on the steps covering each 
approach. Other predictions were less happy. Many 
correspondents, for instance, wrote accounts of the 
emperor’s solemn progress from the palace at sundown ; 
actually it was late at night before he arrived, and then 
with the Eoinimum of display. The Associated Press 
postponed the event until dawn, and described it in these 
terms : As their Majesties rode to church through the 
dusty streets of the mountain capital, which were packed with 
tens of thousands of their braves and chieftains, the masses 
uttered savage cries of acclaim. Scores of natives were 
trampled in the dust as the crowd surged to catch sight of the 
coronation party,” 

It was highly interesting to me, when the papers 
began to arrive from Europe and America, to compare 



REMOTE PEOPLE 5I 

my own experiences with, those of the different corre- 
spondents. I had the fortune to be working for a paper 
which values the accuracy of its news before everything 
else ; even so I was betrayed into a few mistakes. Tele- 
graphic economy accounts for some of these, as when 
“ Abuna,” the title of the Abyssinian primate, became 
expanded by a zealous sub-editor into “ the Archbishop 
of Abuna.” Proper names often came through somewhat 
mangled, and curious transpositions of whole phrases 
occasionally took place, so that somewhere between 
Addis Ababa and London I was saddled with the amazing 
assertion that George Herui had served .on Sir John 
Maffey’s staff in the Soudan. Some mistakes of this kind 
seem inevitable. My surprise in reading the Press 
reports of the coronation was not that my more impetuous 
colleagues had allowed themselves to be slapdash about 
their details or that they had fallen into some occasional 
exaggeration of the more romantic and incongruous 
aspects of the affair. It seemed to me that we had been 
witnesses of a quite different series of events. “ Getting 
in first with the news ” and “ giving the public what it 
wants,” the two dominating principles of Fleet Street, 
are not always reconcilable. 

I do not intend by this any conventional condemnation 
of the “ Yellow Press.” It seems to me that a prig is 
someone who judges people by his own, rather than by 
their, standards ; criticism only becomes useful when it 
can show people where their own principles are in con- 
flict. It is perfectly natural that the cheaper newspapers 
should aim at entertainment rather than instruction, and 
give prominence to what is startling and frivolous over 
what is important but unamusing or unintelligible. “ If 
a dog bites a man, that’s nothing ; if a man bites a dog, 
that’s news.” My complaint is that in its scramble for 
precedence the cheap Press is falling short of the very 
standards of public service it has set itself. Almost any 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


52 

London newspaper, to-day, would prefer an incomplete, 
inaccurate, and insignificant report of an event provided 
it came in time for an earlier edition than its rivals. Now 
the public is not concerned with this competition. The 
reader, opening his paper on the breakfast-table, has no 
vital interest in, for instance, Abyssinian affairs. An 
aeroplane accident or boxing-match are a different matter. 
In these cases he simply wants to know the result as soon 
as possible. But the coronation of an African emperor 
means little or nothing to him. He may read about it on 
Monday or Tuesday, he will not be impatient. All he 
wants from Africa is something to amuse him in the 
railway train to his office. He will be just as much 
amused on Tuesday as on Monday. The extra day’s 
delay makes the difference, to the correspondent on the 
spot, of whether he has time to compose a fully informed 
account (and, in almost all cases, the better informed the 
account the more entertaining it will be to the reader). 
Or at least it makes this difference. Events in a news- 
paper become amusing and thrilling just in so far as they 
are given credence as historical facts. Any one, sitting 
down for a few hours with a typewriter, could compose a 
paper that would be the ideal of every news-editor. He 
would deal out dramatic deaths in the royal family, 
derail trains, embroil the country in civil war, and devise 
savage and insoluble murders. All these things would be 
profoundly exciting to the reader so long as he thought 
they were true. If they were offered to him as fiction 
they would be utterly insignificant. (And this shows the 
great gulf which divides the novelist from the journalist. 
The value of a novel depends on the standards each book 
evolves for itself ; incidents which have no value as news 
are given any degree of importance according to their 
place in the book’s structure and their relation to other 
incidents in the composition, just as subdued colours 
attain great intensity in certain pictures.) The delight of 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


53 

reading the popular newspapers does not come, except 
quite indirectly, from their political programmes or 
“ feature articles,” but from the fitful illumination which 
glows in odd places — phrases reported from the police 
courts, statements made in public orations in provincial 
towns — which suddenly reveal unexpected byways of 
life. If these were pure invention they would lose all 
interest. As soon as one knows that they are written with 
conscious satire by some bright young reporter in the office, 
there is no further amusement in the astounding opinions 
so dogmatically expressed in the correspondence column. 

In Addis Ababa, for the first time, I was able to watch 
the machinery of journalism working in a simplified form. 
A London office is too full and complicated to enable one 
to form opinions on any brief acquaintance. Here I 
knew most of the facts and people involved, and in the 
light of this knowledge I found the Press reports shocking 
and depressing. After all, there really was something 
there to report that was quite new to the European 
public ; a succession of events of startling spectacular 
character, and a system of life, in a tangle of modernism 
and barbarity, European, African, and American, of 
definite, individual character. It seemed to me that here, 
at least, the truth was stranger than the newspaper reports. 
For instance, one newspaper stated that the emperor’s 
banqueting-hall was decorated with inlaid marble, ivory, 
and malachite. That is not very strange to anyone who 
has been into any of the cheaper London hotels. In 
actual fact there were photographs of Mr. Ramsay 
MacDonald and M. Poincare, and a large, very lifelike 
oil-painting of a lion, by an Australian artist. It all 
depends on what one finds amusing. In the same way 
the royal coach was reported to have been drawn from 
the church by six milk-white horses — a wholly banal con- 
ception of splendour. If the reporters had wanted to say 
something thrilling, why did they not say gilded eunuchs. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


S4 

or ostriches with dyed plumes, or a team of captive kings, 
blinded and wearing yokes of elephant tusk ? But since 
custom or poverty of imagination confined them to the 
stables, why should they not content themselves with what 
actually happened, that the ex-Kaiser’s coach appeared 
at the church equipped with six horses (they were not 
white, but that is immaterial) and a Hungarian coachman 
in fantastic circus livery, but that, as they had never been 
properly trained, they proved difficult to manage and at 
the first salute of guns fell into utter confusion, threaten- 
ing destruction to the coach and causing grave alarm to 
the surrounding crowds ; that finally two had to be un- 
harnessed, and that this was not accomplished until one 
groom had been seriously injured ; that next day in the 
procession the coachman did not appear, and the emperor 
resumed his crimson motor-car — a triumph of modernism 
typical of the whole situation ? 

This is what I saw at the coronation : 

The emperor and empress were due to appear from 
their vigil at seven in the morning. We were warned to 
arrive at the tent about an hour before that time. Ac- 
cordingly, having dressed by candlelight, Irene and I 
proceeded there at about six. For many hours before 
dawn the roads into the town had been filled with tribes- 
men coming in from the surrounding camps. We could 
see them passing the hotel (the street lamps were working 
that night) in dense white crowds, some riding mules, 
some walking, some moving at a slow trot beside their 
masters. All, as always, were armed. Our car moved 
slowly to Gorgis, hooting continuously. There were 
many other cars ; some carrying Europeans ; others, 
Abyssinian officials. Eventually we reached the church 
and were admitted after a narrow scrutiny of our tickets 
and ourselves. The square inside the gates was com- 
paratively clear ; from the top of the steps the machine- 
guns compromised with ecclesiastical calm. From inside 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


S5 

the cathedral came the voices of the priests singing the 
last phase of the service that had lasted all night. Eluding 
the numerous soldiers, policemen, and officials who 
directed us towards the tent, we slipped into the outer 
ambulatory of the church, where the choir of bearded 
and vested deacons were dancing to the music of hand 
drums and little silver rattles. The drummers squatted 
round them ; but they carried the rattles themselves and 
in their other hand waved praying-sticks.^ Some carried 
nothing, but merely clapped their empty palms. They 
shuffled in and out, singing and swaying ; the dance 
was performed with body and arms rather than with the 
feet. Their faces expressed the keenest enjoyment — 
almost, in some cases, ecstasy. The brilliant morning 
sun streamed in on them from the windows, on their 
silver crosses, silver-headed rods, and on the large, illum- 
inated manuscript from which one of them, undeterred 
by the music, was reciting the Gospels ; the clouds of 
incense mounted and bellied in the shafts of light. 

Presently we went on to the tent. This was already 
well filled. The clothes of the congregation varied con- 
siderably. Most of the men were wearing morning coats, 
but some had appeared in evening dress and one or two 
in dinner-jackets. One lady had stuck an American flag 
in the top of her sun-helmet. The junior members of the 
legations were there already, in uniform, fussing among 
the seats to see that everything was in order. By seven 
o’clock the delegations arrived. The English party, led 
by the Duke of Gloucester and Lord Airlie in hussar and 
lancer uniforms, were undoubtedly the most august, 
though there was a very smart Swede carrying a silver 
helmet. It happened that our delegation was largely 
composed of men of unusually imposing physique ; it 

^ These are long rods with crooked handles ; the Abyssinians prostrate 
themselves frequently, but do not kneel in prayer ; instead, they stand 
resting their hands on the stick and their forehead on their hands. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


56 

was gratifying both to our own national loyalty (an emo- 
tion which becomes surprisingly sensible in remote 
places) and also to that of the simpler Abyssinians, who 
supposed, rightly enough, that this magnificent array was 
there with the unequivocal purpose of courtesy towards 
the emperor ; I am rather more doubtful, however, 
about the impression made on the less uneducated classes. 
They have deep suspicions of the intentions of their 
European neighbours, and the parade of our own war 
lords (as Sir John Maffey, Sir Harold Kittermaster, Sir 
Stewart Symes, Admiral Fullerton, and Mr. Noble, in 
full uniform, may well have appeared in their eyes) was 
little calculated to allay them. It is perhaps significant 
to note that important commercial contracts and advisory 
positions at Court have recently been accorded to the 
least demonstrative of the visiting nations — the United 
States of America. However, it is churlish to complain 
that our public servants are too handsome, and, as far as 
the coronation ceremonies went, they certainly added 
glamour to the pageant. 

It was long after the last delegate had taken his place 
that the emperor and empress appeared from the church. 
We could hear the singing going on behind the curtains. 
Photographers, amateur and professional, employed the 
time in taking furtive snapshots. Reporters despatched 
their boys to the telegraph office with supplementary ac- 
counts of the preliminaries. By some misunderstanding 
of the instructions of the responsible official, the office was 
closed for the day. After the manner of native servants, 
the messengers, instead of reporting the matter to their 
masters, sat, grateful for the rest, on the steps gossiping 
until it should open. It was late in the day that the 
truth became known, and then there was more trouble for 
Mr. Hall. 

The ceremony was immensely long, even according 
to the original schedule, and the clergy succeeded in 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


SI 

prolonging it by at least an hour and a half beyond the 
allotted time. The six succeeding days of celebration 
were to be predominantly military, but the coronation 
day itself was in the hands of the Church, and they were 
going to make the most of it. Psalms, canticles, and 
prayers succeeded each other, long passages of Scripture 
were read, all in the extinct ecclesiastical tongue, Ghiz. 
Candles were lit one by one ; the coronation oaths were 
proposed and sworn ; the diplomats shifted uncomfort- 
ably in their gilt chairs, noisy squabbles broke out round 
the entrance between the imperial guard and the re- 
tainers of the local chiefs. Professor W., who was an 
expert of high transatlantic reputation on Coptic ritual, 
occasionally remarked : “ They are beginning the Mass 
now,” “ That was the offertory,” “ No, I was wrong ; it 
was the consecration,” “ No, I was wrong ; I think it is 
the secret Gospel,” “ No, I think it must be the Epistle,” 
“ How very curious ; I don’t believe it was a Mass at 
all,” “ Now they are beginning the Mass . . .” and so 
on. Presently the bishops began to fumble among the 
bandboxes, and investiture began. At long intervals the 
emperor was presented with robe, orb, spurs, spear, and 
finally with the crown. A salute of guns was fired, and 
the crowds outside, scattered all over the surrounding 
waste spaces, began to cheer ; the imperial horses reared 
up, plunged on top of each other, kicked the gilding off 
the front of the coach, and broke their traces. The coach- 
man sprang from the box and whipped them from a safe 
distance. Inside the pavilion there was a general sense 
of relief ; it had all been very fine and impressive, now 
for a cigarette, a drink, and a change into less formal 
costume. Not a bit of it. The next thing was to crown 
the empress and the heir apparent ; another salvo of guns 
followed, during which an Abyssinian groom had two 
ribs broken in an attempt to unharness a pair of the im- 
perial horses. Again we felt for our hats and gloves. But 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


58 

the Coptic choir still sang ; the bishops then proceeded 
to take back the regalia with proper prayers, lections, and 
canticles. 

“ I have noticed some very curious variations in the 
Canon of the Mass,” remarked the professor, “ particu- 
larly with regard to the kiss of peace,” 

Then the Mass began. 

For the first time throughout the morning the em- 
peror and empress left their thrones ; they disappeared 
behind the curtains into the improvised sanctuary ; 
most of the clergy went too. The stage was empty save 
for the diplomats ; their faces were set and strained, 
their attitudes inelegant. I have seen just that look in 
crowded second-class railway carriages, at dawn, between 
Avignon and Marseille. Their clothes made them fun- 
nier still. Marshal d’Esperez alone preserved his dig- 
nity, his chest thrown out, his baton poised on his knee, 
rigid as a war memorial, and, as far as one could judge, 
wide awake. 

It was now about eleven o’clock, the time at which the 
emperor was due to leave the pavilion. Punctually to 
plan, three Abyssinian aeroplanes rose to greet him. 
They circled round and round over the tent, eagerly 
demonstrating their newly acquired art by swooping and 
curvetting within a few feet of the canvas roof. The 
noise was appalling ; the local chiefs stirred in their 
sleep and rolled on to their faces ; only by the opening 
and closing of their lips and the turning of their music 
could we discern that the Coptic deacons were still sing- 
ing. 

“ A most unfortunate interruption. I missed many of 
the verses,” said the professor. 

Eventually, at about half-past twelve, the Mass came 
to an end, and the emperor and empress, crowned, 
shuffling along under a red and gold canopy, and looking 
as Irene remarked, exactly like the processional statues of 




Gorgis from the Air 

This photograph was taken on the morning of the Coronation by a member of the 

British Air Mission 




REMOTE PEOPLE 


S9 

Seville, crossed to a grand stand, from which the em- 
peror delivered a royal proclamation ; an aeroplane scat- 
tered copies of the text and, through loud speakers, the 
Court heralds reread it to the populace. 

There was a slightly ill-tempered scramble among the 
photographers and cinema-men — I received a heavy blow 
in the middle of the back from a large camera, and a 
hoarse rebuke, “ Come along there now — let the eyes of 
the world see.” 

Dancing broke out once more among the clergy, and 
there is no knowing how long things might not have 
gone on, had not the photographers so embarrassed and 
jostled them, and outraged their sense of reverence, that 
they withdrew to finish their devotions alone in the 
cathedral. 

Then at last the emperor and empress were conducted 
to their coach and borne off to luncheon by its depleted 
but still demonstratively neurasthenic team of horses. 

Having finished the report for my paper, which I had 
been composing during the service, I delivered it to the 
wireless operator at the Italian Legation ; as I began to 
search for my car the Belgian major rose up and began 
insulting me ; I could not quite understand why until I 
learned that he mistook me for a German bank-clerk who 
apparently had lately boxed the ears of his orderly. My 
Indian chauffeur had got bored and gone home. Lunch- 
eon at the hotel was odious. All food supplies had been 
commandeered by the Government, M. Hallot told us ; 
it was rather doubtful whether the market would open 
again until the end of the week. Meanwhile there were 
tinned chunks of pineapple and three courses of salt beef, 
one cut in small cubes with chopped onion, one left in a 
slab with tomato ketchup, one in slices with hot water 
and Worcestershire sauce ; the waiters had gone out the 
night before to get drunk and had not yet woken up. 

We were all in a bad temper that night. 



6o 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


Six days followed of intensive celebration. On Mon- 
day morning the delegations were required to leave 
wreaths at the mausoleum of Menelik and Zauditu. This 
is a circular, domed building of vaguely Byzantine 
affinities, standing in the Gebbi grounds. Its interior is 
furnished with oil-paintings and enlarged photographs of 
the royal family, a fumed oak grandfather clock, and a 
few occasional tables of the kind exhibited in shop win- 
dows in Tottenham Court Road ; their splay legs pro- 
truded from under embroidered linen tablecloths, laid 
diagonally ; on them stood little conical silver vases of 
catkins boldly counterfeited in wire and magenta wool. 
Steps led down to the vault where lay the white marble 
sarcophagi of the two potentates. It is uncertain whether 
either contains the body attributed to it, or indeed any 
body at all. The date and place of Menelik’s death are 
a palace secret, but it is generally supposed to have taken 
place about two years before its formal announcement to 
people ; the empress probably lies out under the hill at 
Debra Lebanos. At various hours that morning, how- 
ever, the delegations of the Great Powers dutifully ap- 
peared with fine bundles of flowers, and, not to be out- 
done in reverence. Professor W. came tripping gravely 
in with a little bunch of white carnations. 

There was a cheerful, friendly tea-party that afternoon 
at the American Legation and a ball and firework display 
at the Italian, but the party which excited the keenest 
interest was the gebhur given by the emperor to his tribes- 
men. These banquets are a regular feature of Ethiopian 
life, constituting, in fact, a vital bond between the people 
and their over-lords, whose prestige in time of peace 
varies directly with their frequency and abundance. 
Until a few years ago attendance at a gehbur was part of 
the entertainment offered to every visitor in Abyssinia. 
Copious first-hand accounts can be found in almost every 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


6i 


book about the country, describing the packed, squatting 
ranks of the diners ; the slaves carrying the warm quar- 
ters of newly slaughtered, uncooked beef ; the despatch 
with which each guest carves for himself ; the upward slice 
of his dagger with which he severs each mouthful from 
the dripping lump ; the flat, damp platters of local 
bread ; the great draughts of tedj and talla from the horn 
drinking-pots ; the butchers outside felling and divid- 
ing the oxen ; the emperor and notables at the high table, 
exchanging highly seasoned morsels of more elaborate 
fare. These are the traditional features of the gebhur 
and, no doubt, of this occasion also. It was thus that the 
journalists described their impressions in glowing para- 
phrases of Rhey and Kingsford. When the time came, 
however, we found that particular precautions had been 
taken to exclude all Europeans from the spectacle. Per- 
haps it was felt that the feast might give a false impression 
of the civilising pretensions of the Government. Mr. 
Hall loyally undertook to exercise his influence for each 
of us personally, but in the end no one gained admission 
except two resolute ladies and, by what was felt to be a 
very base exploitation of racial advantage, the coloured 
correspondent of a syndicate of negro newspapers. 

All that I saw was the last relay of guests shambling out 
of the Gebbi gates late that afternoon. They were a very 
enviable company, quite stupefied with food and drink. 
Policemen attempted to herd them on, kicking their in- 
sensible backs and whacking them with canes, but no- 
thing disturbed their serene good temper. The chiefs 
were hoisted on to mules by their retainers and remained 
there blinking and smiling ; one very old man, mounted 
back to front, felt feebly about the crupper for his reins ; 
some stood clasped together in silent, swaying groups ; 
others, lacking support, rolled contentedly in the dust. I 
remembered them that evening as I sat in the supper- 
room at the Italian Legation gravely discussing the slight 



62 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


disturbance of diplomatic propriety caused by the em- 
peror’s capricious distribution of honours. 

There were several parties that week, of more or less 
identical composition. At three there were fireworks, 
resulting in at least one nasty accident ; at one, a cinema 
which failed to work ; at one, Galla dancers who seemed 
to dislocate their shoulders, and sweated so heartily that 
our host was able to plaster their foreheads with bank- 
notes 5 at another, Somali dancers shivered with cold on 
a lawn illuminated with coloured flares. There was a 
race meeting, where the local ponies plunged over low 
jumps and native jockeys cut oflf corners ; the emperor 
sat all alone under a great canopy ; the royal enclosure 
was packed and the rest of the course empty of specta- 
tors ; a totalisator paid out four dollars on every winning 
three-dollar ticket ; both bands played ; Prince Udine 
presented an enormous cup and the emperor a magnifi- 
cent kind of urn whose purpose no one could discover ; 
it had several silver taps and little silver stands, and a great 
tray covered with silver cups of the kind from which 
grape-fruit is eaten in cinema-films. This fine trophy 
was won by a gentleman, in gilt riding-boots, attached to 
the French Legation, and was used later at their party 
for champagne. There was a certain amount of whisper- 
ing against French sportsmanship, however, as they had 
sent back their books of sweepstake tickets with scarcely 
one sold. This showed a very bad club spirit, the other 
legations maintained. 

There was a procession of all the troops, uniformed and 
irregular, in the middle of which Irene appeared in a 
taxicab surprisingly surrounded by a band of mounted 
musicians playing six-foot pipes and banging on saddle 
drums of oxhide and wood. The people all shrilled their 
applause, as the emperor passed, in a high, wailing 
whistle. 

There was the opening of a museum of souvenirs. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


63 

containing examples of native craftsmanship, the crown 
captured by General Napier at Magdala and returned by 
the Victoria and Albert Museum, and a huge, hollow 
stone which an Abyssinian saint had worn as a hat. 

There was a review of the troops on the plain outside 
the railway station. Although we had been privileged 
to see almost every member of His Majesty’s forces al- 
most every day, this was a startling display for those, like 
myself, who had never seen a muster of tribesmen in 
Arabia or Morocco. The men converged on the royal 
stand from all over the plain, saluting him with cries and 
flourishes of arms, the little horses and mules galloping 
right up to the foot of the throne and being reined back 
savagely on to their haunches, with mouths dripping 
foam and blood. 

But no catalogue of events can convey any real idea of 
these astounding days, of an atmosphere utterly unique, 
elusive, unforgettable. If in the foregoing pages I have 
seemed to give undue emphasis to the irregularity of the 
proceedings, to their unpunctuality, and their occasional 
failure, it is because this was an essential part of their 
character and charm. In Addis Ababa everything was 
haphazard and incongruous ; one learned always to ex- 
pect the unusual and yet was always surprised. 

Every morning we awoke to a day of brilliant summer 
sunshine ; every evening fell cool, limpid, charged with 
hidden vitality, fragrant with the thin smoke of the tukal 
fires, pulsing, like a live body, with the beat of the tom- 
toms that drummed incessantly somewhere out of sight 
among the eucalyptus-trees. In this rich African setting 
were jumbled together, for a few days, people of every 
race and temper, all involved in one way or another in 
that complex of hysteria and apathy, majesty and farce ; 
a company shot through with every degree of animosity 
and suspicion. There were continual rumours born of 
the general uncertainty ; rumours about the date and 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


64 

place of every ceremony ; nimours of dissension in high 
places ; rumours that, in the absence at Addis Ababa of 
all the responsible officials, the interior was seething with 
brigandage ; rumours that Sir Percival Phillips had used 
the legation wireless ; that the Ethiopian Minister to 
Paris had been refused admittance to Addis Ababa ; that 
the royal coachman had not had his wages for two months 
and had given in his notice ; that the airmen from Aden 
were secretly prospecting for a service between the 
capital and the coast ; that one of the legations had re- 
fused to receive the empress’s first lady-in-waiting ; 
above all, there was the great Flea Scandal and the Indis- 
cretion about the Duke of Gloucester’s Cook. 

I had an intimation of that affair some days before it 
was generally known. Two journalists were drinking 
cocktails with me on the hotel terrace on the evening 
before the coronation. One of them said, “ We got a 

jolly good story this morning out of ” naming an 

amiable nit-wit on the Duke of Gloucester’s staff. “ It 
isn’t in your paper’s line, so I don’t mind telling you.” 

The story was plain and credible ; first, that the old 
Gebbi in which His Royal Highness was quartered was, 
like most houses in Ethiopia, infested with fleas ; secondly 
that the German cook was unable to obtain due attention 
from the native servants and came to complain of the 
fact. She paced up and down the room passionately, ex- 
plaining her difficulties ; when she turned her back it 
was apparent that in her agitation she had failed to 
fasten her skirt, which fell open and revealed under- 
clothes of red flannel ; the English party were unable to 
hide their amusement, and the cook, thinking that the 
ridicule was part of a scheme of persecution, stormed out 
of the house, leaving the party without their breakfast. 

“ You sent that back ? ” I asked. 

“ You bet your life I did.” 

I felt there might be trouble. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


^5 

Two days later the local correspondent of one of the 
news agencies received the following message from 
London : “ Investigate report fleas Gloucester's bed also 
cook red drawers left Duke breakfastless. He hurried with 
this cable to the legation and, on the Minister’s advice, 
cabled back, “ Insignificant incident greatly exaggerated 
advisable suppress." 

But it was too late. The papers of the civilised world 
had published the story. The emperor’s European 
agents had cabled back news of the betrayal ; the em- 
peror had complained to the legations. Stirring reports 
were in circulation that the emperor required every 
journalist to leave the coxmtry, bag and baggage, within 
twenty-four hours ; that Lady Barton was revising her 
dance list ; that the kantaba had cancelled his banquet ; 
that no more stars of Ethiopia were to be dealt out ruitil 
the culprit was discovered. Phrases such as “ breach of 
hospitality,” “ gross ill-breeding,” “ unpardonable ir- 
regularity,” “ damned bad form ” volleyed and echoed 
on every side. At a party that evening the A.D.C. who 
had caused the trouble was conspicuously vigorous in his 
aspirations to “ kick the bounder’s backside, whoever he 
is.” We all felt \ineasy for nearly a day, until the topic 
was succeeded by the French Legation’s shabby be- 
haviour over the sweepstake tickets, and the grave ques- 
tion of whether the emperor would attend Marshal 
d’Esperez’s private tea-party. 

One morning, a few days later, Irene and I were sitting 
outside the hotel drinking aperitifs and waiting for 
luncheon ; we were entertained by the way in which the 
various visitors treated a pedlar who diffidently ap- 
proached them with a bundle of bootlaces in one hand and 
an enamelled pot de chambre in the other. Suddenly a taxi 
drove up, and a servant wearing the palace livery jumped 
out and emptied a large pile of envelopes into Irene’s lap. 
Two were addressed to us. We took them and handed 

Er 



66 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


back the rest, which the man presented, to be sorted in the 
same way, at the next table. It was not perhaps the most 
expeditious method of delivery, but, as he was unable to 
read, it is difficult to think of what else he could have 
done. 

The envelopes contained an invitation to lunch with the 
emperor that day at one o’clock ; as it was then after 
half-past twelve we disregarded the request for an answer 
and hurried off to change. 

Professor W. had spoken to me of this party some days 
before, saying with restrained relish, “ On Saturday I am 
lunching with the emperor. There are several things I 
shall be interested to discuss with him.” But, as it 
turned out, he had little opportunity for conversation. 
There were about eighty guests and many empty places, 
showing that the messenger had not been able to finish 
his round in time (indeed, it is no unusual thing in Addis 
Ababa to receive cards of invitation many hours after the 
event). They were the European officials in the Abys- 
sinian Government, European residents, journalists, and 
private visitors whose names had been sent in by the 
legations ; the European officers of the army, a few 
Abyssinian notables, the wives of visiting consuls, and 
so on. At first we stood in the glazed corridor which 
ran down one side of the main building. Then we were 
ushered into the throne-room, bowed and curtsied, and 
ranged ourselves round the walls while hyrrh and ver- 
mouth and cigars were carried round. There was some- 
thing slightly ecclesiastical in the atmosphere. 

The emperor then led the way into the dining-room. 
We tramped in behind him in no particular order. He 
seated himself at the centre of the top table ; three tables 
ran at right angles to him, resplendent with gold plate 
and white-and-gold china. Typewritten name-cards 
lay on each plate. Ten minutes or so followed of some 
confusion as we jostled round and round looking for our 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


67 

places ; there was no plan of the table, and as most of 
us were complete strangers we were unable to help each 
other. The emperor sat watching us with a placid little 
smile. We must have looked very amusing. Naturally 
no one cared to look at the places next to the emperor, so 
that when at last we were all seated the two most honoured 
guests were left to sidle forlornly into the nearest empty 
places. Eventually they were fetched. Irene sat on one 
side and the French wife of the Egyptian consul on his 
other. I sat between an English airman and a Belgian 
photographer. A long meal followed, of many courses of 
fair French cooking and good European wines. There 
was also tedj and the national beverage made from 
fermented honey. We had sent out for some, one evening 
at the hotel, and found it an opaque yellowish liquid, 
mild and rather characterless. The emperor’s tedj was 
a very different drink, quite clear, slightly brown, heavy, 
rich, and dry. After luncheon, at Irene’s request, we 
were given some of the liqueur distilled from it — a 
colourless spirit of fine flavour and disconcerting potency. 

Only one odd thing happened at limcheon. Just as we 
were j^ishing, a stout young woman rose from a seat 
near the back and made her way resolutely between the 
tables until she planted herself within a few yards of the 
emperor. I understand that she was a Syrian Jewess 
employed in some educational capacity in the town. She 
carried a sheaf of papers which she held close to her 
pince-nez with one plump hand while she raised the 
other above her head in a Fascist salute. Conversation 
faltered and ceased. The emperor looked at her with 
kindly enquiry. Then, in a voice of peculiar strength 
and stridency, she began to recite an ode. It was a very 
long complimentary ode, composed by herself in Arabic, 
a language wholly imintelligible to His Majesty. Be- 
tween verses she made a long pause during which she 
fluttered her manuscript ; then she began again. We 



68 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


had just begun to feel that the performance would really 
prove interminable, when, just as suddenly as she had 
begun, she stopped, bobbed, turned about, and, with 
glistening forehead and slightly labouring breath, strode 
back to her place to receive the congratulations of her 
immediate neighbours. The emperor rose and led the 
way back to the throne-room. Here we stood round the 
walls for a quarter of an hour while liqueurs were served. 
Then we bowed in turn and filed out into the sunshine. 

That evening at the hotel two soldiers appeared with 
a huge basket of coloured Harari work for Irene from the 
emperor. In it was a fine outfit of native woman’s 
clothing, consisting of a pair of black satin trousers of 
great girth, an embroidered doak, a hand woven chammay 
and a set of gold ornaments. 

One moment of that week is particularly vivid in my 
memory. It was late at night and we had just returned 
from a party. My room, as I have said, was in an out- 
house at a little distance from the hotel ; a grey horse, 
some goats, and the hotel guard, his head wrapped in a 
blanket, were sleeping in the yard as I went across. 
Behind my room, separated from the hotel grounds by 
wooden palings, lay a cluster of native tukah. That 
evening there was a party in one of them — probably 
celebrating a wedding or funeral. The door faced my 
way and I could see a glimmer of lamplight in the interior. 
They were sjnging a monotonous song, clapping in time 
and drumming with their hands on petrol-tins. I suppose 
there were about ten or fifteen of them there. I stood for 
some time listening. I was wearing a tall hat, evening 
clothes and white gloves. Presently the guard woke up 
and blew a little trumpet ; the sound was taken up by 
other guards at neighbouring houses (it is in this way that 
they assure their employers of their vigilance) ; then he 
wrapped himself once more in his blanket and relapsed 
into sleep. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


69 

The song continued unvarying in the still night. The 
absurdity of the whole week became suddenly typified for 
me in that situation — my preposterous clothes, the sleep- 
ing animals, and the wakeful party on the other side of 
the stockade. 


FOUR 

It was during our third week in Addis Ababa, when the 
official celebrations were over and the delegations were 
being packed off to the coast as fast as the Franco- 
Ethiopian Railway’s supply of sleeping cars would allow, 
that Professor W. suggested to me that we should make 
an expedition together to Debra Lebanos. 

This monastery has for four centuries been the centre 
of Abyssinian spiritual life. It is built round a spring 
where the waters of Jordan, conveyed subterraneously 
down the Red Sea, are believed to well up endowed with 
curative properties ; pilgrims go there from all parts of 
the country, and it is a popular burial-ground for those 
who can afford it, since all found there at the Last Trump 
are assured of unimpeded entry into Paradise. 

It was the dry season, so that the road could be at- 
tempted by car. Professor Mercer had recently made 
the journey and had come back with photographs of a 
hitherto unknown version of Ecclesiastes. Ras Kassa 
had driven from Fiche only two weeks before and renewed 
the bridges for the occasion, so that we had little difficulty 
in finding a driver willing to take us. Permission had 
first to be obtained from Kassa to use the road. Pro- 
fessor W. obtained this and also a letter of commendation 
from the Abuna. An escort of soldiers was offered us, but 
refused. The expedition consisted simply of ourselves, 
a bullet-headed Armenian chauffeur, and a small native 
boy, who attached himself to us without invitation. At 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


70 

first we were a little resentful of this, but he firmly refused 
to understand our attempts at dismissal, and later we 
were devoutly grateful for his presence. The car, which 
did things I should have thought no car could possibly 
do, was an American make which is rarely seen in 
Europe. When we had packed it with our overcoats, 
rugs, tins of petrol, and provisions, there was just room 
for ourselves. The hotel supplied beer and sandwiches 
and olives and oranges, and Irene gave us a hamper of 
tinned and truffled foods from Fortnum & Mason. We 
were just starting, rather later than we had hoped, when 
Professor W. remembered something. “ Do you mind 
if we go back to my hotel for a minute ? There’s just 
one thing I’ve forgotten.” We drove round to the 
Imperial. 

The thing he had forgotten was a dozen empty Vichy- 
bottles. “ I thought it would be courteous,” he explained, 
“ to take some holy water back to Ras Kassa and the 
Abuna. I’m sure they would appreciate it.” 

“ Yes, but need we take quite so much ? ” 

“ Well, there’s the patriarchal legate, I should like 
to give him some, and Belatingeta Herui, and the Coptic 
patriarch at Cairo. ... I thought it was a nice oppor- 
tunity to repay some of the kindness I have received.” 

I suggested that this ptirpose could be more conven- 
iently achieved by giving them tedj^ and that from what I 
had seen of Abyssinians they would much prefer it. 
Professor W. gave a little nervous laugh and looked 
anxiously out of the window. 

“ Well, why not fill my empty beer-bottles ” 

“ No, no, I don’t think that would be quite suitable. I 
don’t really like using Vichy-bottles. I wish I had had 
time to scrape off the labels,” he mused. “ I don’t 
quite like the idea of holy water in Vichy-bottles. Perhaps 
the boy could do it to-morrow - before they are filled, of 
coxorse.” 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


IT- 

A new aspect of the professor’s character was thus 
revealed. My acquaintance with him until that day was 
limited to half a dozen more or less casual encounters at 
the various parties and shows. I had found him full of 
agreeably ironical criticism of our companions, very 
ptmctilious, and very enthusiastic about things which 
seemed to me unexceptionable. “ Look,” he would say 
with purest Boston intonation, “ look at the exquisite 
grace of the basket that woman is carrying. There is 
the whole character of the people in that plaited straw. 
Ah, why do we waste our time looking at crowns and 
canons I could study that basket all day.” And a 
wistful, far-away look would come into his eyes as he 
spoke. 

Remarks of that kind went down very well with some 
people, and I regarded them as being, perhaps, one of the 
normal manifestations of American scholarship. They 
were compensated for by such sound maxims as “ Never 
carry binoculars ; you only have to hand them over to 
some wretched woman as soon as there is anything worth 
seeing.” But this worldly good sense was a mere mask 
over the essentially mystical nature of the professor’s 
mind ; one touch of church furniture, and he became 
suddenly transfused with reverence and an almost 
neurotic eagerness to do all that could be expected of 
him, with an impulsive and demonstrative devotion that 
added a great deal to the glamour of our expedition 
together. 

Those bottles, however, were an infernal nuisance. 
They clinked about the floor, making all the difference 
between tolerable ease and acute discomfort. There was 
nowhere to rest our feet except on their xmstable, rolling 
svurface. We drew up our knees and resigned ourselves 
to cramp and pins and needles. 

Debra Lebanos is practically due north of Addis 
Ababa, For the first mile or two there was a clearly 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


72 

marked track which led out of the town, right over the 
summit of Entoto. It was extremely steep and narrow, 
composed of loose stones and boulders ; on the top of the 
hill was a little church and parsonage, the ground all 
round them broken by deep ravines and outcrops of 
stone. “ Whatever happens,” we decided, “ we must 
make quite certain of coming over here by daylight.” 

From Entoto the way led down to a wide plain, 
watered by six or seven shallow streams which flowed 
between deep banks at right angles to our road. Caravans 
of mules were coming into the town laden with skins. 
Professor W. saluted them with bows and blessings ; 
the hillmen answered him with blank stares or broad 
incredulous grins. A few, more sophisticated than their 
companions, bellowed, “ Bakshish 1 ” Professor W. 
shook his head sadly and remarked that the people were 
already getting spoiled by foreign intrusion. 

It took two or three hours to cross the plain ; we drove, 
for the most part, parallel to the track, rather than on it, 
finding the rough ground more comfortable than the 
prepared surface. We crossed numerous dry water- 
courses and several streams. At some of these there had 
been rough attempts at bridge-building, usually a heap 
of rocks and a few pieces of timber ; in rare cases a 
culvert ran underneath. It was in negotiating these that 
we first realised the astonishing powers of our car. It 
would plunge nose first into a precipitous gully, shiver 
and stagger a little, churn up dust and stones, roar, and 
skid, bxxmp and sway until we began to climb out, and 
then it would suddenly start forward and mount very 
deliberately up the other side as though endowed with 
some peculiar prehensile quality in its tyres. Occasion- 
ally, in conditions of scarcely conceivable asperity, the 
engine would stop. Professor W. would sigh, and open 
the door, allowing two or three of his empty bottles to 
roll out on to the running-board. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


73 

“ Ah, 9a n’a pas d’importance,” said the driver, prod- 
ding the boy, who jumped out, restored the bottles, and 
then leant his shoulder against the back of the car. This 
infinitesimal contribution of weight seemed to be all the 
car needed ; up it would go out of the river-bed, and over 
the crest of the bank, gaining speed as it reached level 
ground ; the child would race after us and clamber in as 
we bumped along, a triumphant smile on his little black 
face. 

At about eleven we stopped for luncheon by the side of 
the last stream. The boy busied himself by filling up the 
radiator by the use of a small cup. I ate sandwiches and 
drank beer rendered volatile by the motion of the car. 
The professor turned out to be a vegetarian ; he un- 
wrapped a little segment of cheese from its silver paper 
and nibbled it delicately and made a very neat job of an 
orange. The sun was very powerful, and the professor 
advanced what seemed, and still seems, to me the radically 
xmsound theory that you must wear thick woollen under- 
clothes if you wish to keep cool in the tropics. 

After leaving the plain we drove for three hours or so 
across grassy downland. There was now no track of any 
kind, but occasional boundary-stones hinted at the way 
we should follow. There were herds grazing, usually in 
charge of small naked children. At first the professor 
politely raised his hat and bowed to them, but the effect 
was so disturbing that after he had sent three or four out 
of sight, wailing in terror, he remarked that it was agree- 
able to find people who had a proper sense of the menace 
of motor transport, and relapsed into meditation, ponder- 
ing, perhaps, the advisability of presenting a little holy 
water to the emperor. The route was uneventful, broken 
only by occasional clusters of tukals^ surrounded by high 
hedges of euphorbia. It was very hot, and after a time, 
in spite of the jangle of the bottles and the constriction 
of space, I fell into a light doze. 



74 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


I awoke as we stopped on the top of a hill ; all round 
us were empty undulations of grass. “ Nous sommes 
perdus ? ” asked the professor. “ Qa. n’a pas d’import- 
ance,” replied the driver, lighting a cigarette. The boy 
was despatched, like the dove from Noah’s ark, to find 
direction in the void. We waited for half an hour before 
he returned. Meanwhile three native women appeared 
from nowhere, peering at us from under straw sun- 
shades. The professor took off his hat and bowed. The 
women huddled together and giggled. Presently fas- 
cination overcame their shyness and they approached 
closer ; one touched the radiator and burned her fingers. 
They asked for cigarettes and were repelled, with some 
very forceful language, by the driver. 

At last the child returned and made some explanations. 
We turned off at right angles and drove on, and the pro- 
fessor and I fell asleep once more. 

When I next woke, the landscape had changed drama- 
tically. About half a mile from us, and obliquely to the 
line of our path, the ground fell away suddenly into a 
great canyon. I do not know how deep it was, but I 
should think at least two thousand feet, descending 
abruptly in tiers of sheer cliff, broken by strips and 
patches of timber. At the bottom a river ran between 
green banks, to swell the Blue Nile far in the south ; it was 
practically dry at this season except for a few shining 
channels of water which split and reunited on the sandy 
bed in delicate threads of light. Poised among trees, 
two-thirds of the way down on a semi-circular shelf of 
land, we could discern the roofs of Debra Lebanos. A 
cleft path led down the face of the cliff and it was for this 
that we were clearly making. It looked hopelessly un- 
safe, but our Armenian plunged down with fine intre- 
pidity. 

Sometimes we lurched along a narrow track with cliffs 
rising on one side and a precipice falling away on the 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


IS 

Other ; sometimes we picked our way on broad ledges 
among great volcanic boulders ; sometimes we grated 
between narrow rock walls. At last we reached a defile 
which even our driver admitted to be impassable. We 
climbed out along the running-boards and finished the 
descent on foot. Professor W. was clearly already en- 
chanted by the sanctity of the place. 

“ Look,” he said, pointing to some columns of smoke 
that rose from the cliffs above us, “ the cells of the 
solitary anchorites.” 

“ Are you sure there are solitary anchorites here .? I 
never heard of any.” 

“ It would be a good place for them,” he said 
wistfully. 

The Armenian strode on in front of us, a gallant little 
figure with his cropped head and rotund, gaitered legs ; 
the boy staggered behind, carrying overcoats, blankets, 
provisions, and a good half-dozen of the empty bottles. 
Suddenly the Armenian stopped and, with his finger on 
his lips, drew our attention to the rocks just below us. 
Twenty or thirty baboons of both sexes and all ages were 
huddled up in the shade. 

“ Ah,” said Professor W., ” sacred monkeys. How 
very interesting ! ” 

” Why do you think they are sacred ? They seem per- 
fectly wild.” 

“ It is a common thing to find sacred monkeys in mon- 
asteries,” he explained gently. “ I have seen them in 
Ceylon and in many parts of India. . . . Oh, why did he 
do that ? How very thoughtless ! ” For our driver had 
thrown a stone into their midst and scattered them bark- 
ing in all directions, to the great delight of the small boy 
behind us. 

It was hot walking. We passed one or two tukals 
with women and children staring curiously at us, and 
eventually emerged on to an open green ledge littered 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


76 

with enormous rocks and a variety of unimposing build- 
ings. A mob of ragged boys, mostly infected with dis- 
agreeable skin diseases, surrounded us and were repelled 
by the Armenian. (These, we learned later, were the 
deacons.) We sent the boy forward to find someone 
more responsible, and soon a fine-looking, bearded monk 
carrying a yellow sunshade, came out of the shadow of a 
tree and advanced to greet us. We gave him our letter 
of introduction from the Abuna, and after he had scrutin- 
ised both sides of the envelope with some closeness, he 
agreed, through our Armenian, who from now on acted 
as interpreter, to fetch the head of the monastery. He 
was away some time and eventually returned with an old 
priest, who wore a brown cloak, a very large white turban, 
steel-rimmed spectacles, and carried in one hand an old 
black umbrella and in the other a horsehair fly-whisk. 
Professor W. darted forward and kissed the cross which 
swung from the old man’s neck. This was received rather 
well, but I felt too shy to follow his lead and contented 
myself with shaking hands. The monk then handed his 
superior our letter, which was tucked away in his pocket 
unopened. They then explained that they would be 
ready to receive us shortly, and went off to wake up the 
other priests and prepare the chapter house. 

We waited about half an hour, sitting in the shade near 
the church, and gradually forming round us a circle of 
inquisitive ecclesiastics of all ages. The Armenian went 
off to see about his car. Professor W. replied to the 
questions that were put to us, with bows, shakes of the 
head, and little sympathetic moans. Presently one monk 
came up and, squatting beside us, began to write on the 
back of his hand with a white pencil in a regular, finely- 
formed Amharic script. One of the letters was in the 
form of a cross. Professor W., anxious to inform them 
all that we were good Christians, pointed to this mark, 
then to me and to himself, bowed in the direction of the 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


77 

chiirchj and crossed himself. This time he made a less 
happy impression. Everyone looked bewildered and 
rather scared ; the scribe spat on his hand and, hastily 
erasing the text, fell back some paces. There was an air 
of tension and embarrassment, which was fortunately 
disturbed by our Armenian with the announcement that 
the council of the monastery were now ready to receive us. 

Apart from the two churches, the most prominent 
building was a tall, square house of stone, with a thatched 
roof and a single row of windows set high up under the 
eaves ; it was here that we were led. A small crowd 
had collected round the door, which was covered with a 
double curtain of heavy sackcloth. The windows also 
were heavily screened, so that we stepped from the 
brilliant sunshine into a gloom which was at first com- 
pletely bafBing. One of the priests raised the door- 
curtain a little to show us our way. A single lofty room 
constituted the entire house ; the walls were of un- 
disguised stone and rubble, no ceiling covered the rafters 
and thatch. Preparations had clearly been made for us ; 
carpets had been spread on the earthen floor, and in the 
centre stood two low stools covered with rugs ; twelve 
priests stood ranged against the wall, the head of the 
monastery in their centre ; between them and our seats 
stood a table covered with a shawl ; the only other 
furniture was a cupboard in the far corner, roughly 
built of irregularly-stained white wood, the doors secured 
with a staple and padlock. We sat down and our chauf- 
feur-interpreter stood beside us jauntily twirling his cap. 
When we were settled, the head of the monastery, who 
apparently also bore the title of abuna, brought our letter 
of introduction out of his pocket and, for the first time, 
opened it. He read it first to himself and then aloud to 
the company, who scratched their beards, nodded, and 
grunted. Then he addressed us, asking us what we 
wanted. Professor W. explained that we had heard from 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


78 

afar of the sanctity of the place and the wisdom and piety 
of the monks, and that we had come to do reverence at 
their shrine, pay our duty and respects to them, and take 
away some account of the glories of the monastery of 
which all the world stood in awe. This pretty speech was 
condensed by our chauffeur into three or four harsh 
vocables, and greeted with further nods and grunts from 
the assembly. 

One of them then asked whether we were Moham- 
medans. It seemed sad that this question was necessary 
after all Professor W.’s protestations. We assured him 
that we were not. Another asked where we had come 
from. Addis Ababa ? They asked about the coronation, 
and Professor W. began a graphic outline of the liturgical 
significance of the ceremony. I do not think, however, 
that o\ir chauffeur was at very great pains to translate 
this faithfully. The response, anyway, was a general 
outburst of chuckling, and from then onwards, for about 
ten minutes, he took the bxurden of conversation from our 
shoulders and speedily established relations of the utmost 
geniality. Presently he began shaking hands with them 
all and explained that they would like us to do the same, 
a social duty which Professor W. decorated with many 
graceful genuflections and reverences. 

The professor then asked whether we might visit the 
library of which the world stood in awe. Why, certainly ; 
there it was in the corner. The abuna produced a small 
key from his pocket and directed one of the priests to open 
the cupboard. They brought out five or six bundles 
wrapped in silk shawls, and, placing them with great care 
on fbe table, drew back the door-curtain to admit a shaft 
of white light. The abtma lifted the corners of the shawls 
one after another and revealed two pieces of board clumsily 
hinged together in the form of a diptych. Professor W. 
kissed them eagerly ; they were then opened, revealing 
two coloured lithographs, apparently cut from a religious 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


79 

almanac printed in Germany some time towards the end 
of the last century, representing the Crucifixion and the 
Assumption, pasted on to the inner surfaces of the wood. 
The professor was clearly a little taken aback. “ Dear, 
dear, how remarkably ugly they are,” he remarked as he 
bent down to kiss them. 

The other bundles contained manuscripts of the 
Gkjspels, lives of the saints, and missals, written in Ghiz* 
and brightly illuminated. The painting was of the same 
kind as the frescoes, reduced to miniature. Sometimes 
faces and figures had been cut out of prints and stuck into 
the page with a discomposing effect on their highly 
stylised surroundings. They told us with great pride 
that the artist had been employed at Addis Ababa on 
some work for the late empress. Professor W. asked 
whether there were not some older manuscripts we might 
see, but they affected not to understand. I remembered 
hearing from George Herui that it was only after very 
considerable difiiculties that Professor Mercer had xm- 
earthed his Ecclesiastes. No doubt there were still 
reserves hidden from us. 

It was then suggested that we should visit the sacred 
spring. Our Armenian here sidled unobtrusively out of 
the way ; he had had enough exercise for one day. Pro- 
fessor W. and I set out with a guide up the hillside. It 
was a stiff climb ; the sun was still strong and the stones 
all radiated a fierce heat. “I think, perhaps, we ought 
to take off our hats,” said the professor ; “we are on 
very holy ground.” 

I removed my topee and exposed myself to sunstroke, 
trusting in divine protection ; but, just as he spoke, it 
so happened that our guide stopped on the path and 
accommodated himself in a way which made me think 
that his reverence for the spot was far from fanatical. 

* The ecclesiastical language, unintelligible to all the laity and most of 
the priesthood. It is written in Amharic characters. 



8o 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


On our way we passed a place where overhanging 
cliffs formed a shallow cave. Water oozed and dripped 
all round, and the path was soft and slippery. It is here 
that the bodies of the faithful are brought ; they lay all 
about, some in packing-cases, others in hollow tree- 
trunks, battened down with planks, piled and tumbled on 
top of each other without order ; many were partially 
submerged in falls of damp earth, a few of these rough 
coffins had broken apart, revealing their contents. 
There were similar heaps, we were told, on other parts of 
the hillside. 

We had a fine view of the valley ; our guide pointed 
out a group of buildings on the far side. “ That is the 
convent for the women,” he explained. “ You see it is 
quite untrue that we live together. The houses are 
entirely separate. We do not cross the valley to them, 
and they do not cross to us. Never. It is all a lie.” He 
wanted to make this point quite clear. 

At last we reached the spring, which fell in a pretty 
cascade to join the river far below at the bottom of the 
valley. Most of the water, however, had been tapped, 
and was conveyed in two iron pipes to bathing-places 
near the monastery. We climbed down again to see 
them. One, built especially for Menelik, was a little 
brick house with a corrugated iron roof. The old 
empress had frequently come here, and since her death 
it had not been used. We peered through the window 
and saw a plain kitchen-chair. There was a rusty spout 
in the ceiling from which a trickle of water fell on to the 
brick floor and drained away through the waste-pipe in 
one corner. The other bath was for public use. The 
pipe was fitted with a double spout, directing two streams 
of water on to either side of a brick wall. One side was 
for men and the other for women, and a three-sided 
screen was built round each. The floor was made of 
cement. A boy was in there at the time of our visit, 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


8l 


swilling himself down with as much puffing and splutter- 
ing as if he were under any purely secular shower-bath. 

As we turned back, our Armenian and a monk met us 
with a message from the abuna — should they kill a goat, 
a sheep, or a calf for our dinner ? We explained that we 
had full provision for our food. All we required was 
shelter for the night and water to wash in. The Armenian 
explained that it was usual to accept something. We 
suggested some eggs, but were told that they had none. 
They urged a goat very strongly. Meat is a rare luxury 
in the monastery, and they were, no doubt, eagerr to take 
the opportunity of our visit for a feast. The professor’s 
vegetarian scruples, however, were unconquerable. At 
last they suggested honey, which he accepted readily. 
The question of our accommodation was then discussed. 
There was a hut or a tent. The Armenian warned us 
that if we slept in the hut we should certainly contract 
some repulsive disease, and if in the tent, we might be 
killed by hyaenas. He had already made up his own 
mind, he said, to sleep in the car. We returned to the 
monastery, and the abuna led us in person to see the hut. 
It was some time before the key could be found ; when 
the door was at last wrenched open, an emaciated she- 
goat ran out. The interior was windowless and foetid. 
It appeared to have been used as a kind of lumber-room ; 
heaps of old rags and broken furniture encumbered the 
floor. A swarm of bees buzzed in the roof. It was not 
quite ready, the abuna explained ; he had not expected 
guests. It could, of course, be prepared, or would we 
think it inhospitable if he offered us the tent ? We de- 
clared that the tent would be wholly satisfactory, and so, 
with evident relief, the abuna gave instructions for its 
erection. It was now nearly sunset. A spot of ground 
was chosen near the house where we had been received, 
and a very decent bell-tent pitched. (It was the property 
of the old empress, we learned. She had often slept there 

Fp 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


82 

on her visits to the spring.) The floor was covered with 
hay and the hay with rugs. A little boat-shaped oil-lamp 
was hung from the tent-pole ; our rugs, provisions, and 
bottles were brought in and laid on one side. We were 
then invited to enter. We sat down cross-legged and the 
abuna sat beside us. He looked enormous in the tiny 
light ; the shadow from his great turban seemed to fill 
the whole tent. The chauffeur squatted opposite us. 
The abuna smiled with the greatest geniality and ex- 
pressed his best wishes for our comfort ; we thanked 
him heartily. Conversation lapsed and we all three sat 
smiling rather vacantly. Presently the flap was lifted and 
a monk came in wearing a heavy brown burnous and car- 
rying an antiquated rifle. He bowed to us and retired. 
He was a guard, the abuna explained, who would sleep 
outside across our door. Another smiling pause. At 
last supper arrived ; first a basket containing half-a- 
dozen great rounds of native bread, a tough, clammy sub- 
stance closely resembling crfipe rubber in appearance ; 
then two earthernware jugs, one of water, the other of 
talla — a kind of thin, bitter beer ; then two horns of 
honey, but not of honey as it is understood at Thame ; 
this was the product of wild bees, scraped straight from 
the trees ; it was a greyish colour, full of bits of stick and 
mud, bird dung, dead bees, and grubs. Everything was 
first carried to the abuna for his approval, then to us. We 
expressed our delight with nods and more extravagant 
smiles. The food was laid before us and the bearers re- 
tired. At this moment the Armenian shamelessly de- 
serted us, saying that he must go and see after his boy. 

The three of us were left alone, smiling over our food 
in the half darkness. 

In the corner lay our hamper packed with Irene’s 
European delicacies. We clearly could not approach 
them until our host left us. Gradually the frightftil truth 
became evident that he was proposing to dine with us. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


83 

I tore ofF a little rag of bread and attempted to eat it. 
“ This is a very difficult situation,” said the professor ; 
“ I think, perhaps, it woidd be well to simulate ill- 
health,” and, holding his hands to his forehead, he began 
to rock gently from side to side, emitting painfully sub- 
dued moans. It was admirably done ; the abuna watched 
him with the greatest concern ; presently the professor 
held his stomach and retched a little ; then he lay on his 
back, breathing heavily with closed eyes ; then he sat up 
on his elbow and explained in eloquent dumb show that 
he wished to rest. The abuna understood perfectly, and, 
with every gesture of sympathy, rose to his feet and left us. 

In five minutes, when I had opened a tinned grouse 
and a bottle of lager and the professor was happily mtunb- 
ling a handful of ripe olives, the Armenian returned. 
With a comprehensive wink, he picked up the jug of 
native beer, threw back his head, and, without pausing 
to breathe, drank a quart or two. He then spread out 
two rounds of bread, emptied a large quantity of honey 
into each of them, wrapped them together, and put them 
in his pocket. “ Moi, je puis manger comme abyssin,” 
he remarked cheerfully, winked at the grouse, wished us 
good night, and left us. 

“ Now at last,” said the Professor, producing a tin of 
Keating’s powder, “ I feel in the heart of Ethiopia.” He 
sprinkled the rugs and blankets, wrapped his head in a 
pale grey scarf, and prepared to settle down for the night. 
We had had a tiring day, and after smoking a pipe I de- 
cided to follow his example. The lamp was flickering 
and smoking badly and threatened at any moment to 
burn through its own string and set us on fire. I blew 
it out, and was just becoming drowsy when the abuna 
returned, carrying a lantern, to see whether the professor 
felt any better. We all smiled inarticxilately for some 
time, and the professor pointed to the half-empty beer- 
jug and the horns of honey as proof of his recovery. The 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


84 

abuna noted them with evident satisfaction, and then his 
eye, travelling round the tent, was attracted by the Keat- 
ing’s powder which lay like thick dust over the floor and 
bedding. He called in the guard and rather crossly 
pointed out this evidence of neglect. The man hastily 
produced a broom and brushed out the tent. Then, 
when everything was again in order, and after many bows, 
smiles, and blessings, he left us to sleep. 

But I, at any rate, slept very little. It was a deadly 
cold night and a bitter wind sprang up, sweeping the 
valley and driving under the tent and through our thin 
blankets, while outside the door the guard coughed and 
grunted. I was out before dawn and watched the mon- 
astery waking into life. There seemed very little order. 
The monks emerged from the huts in ones and twos and 
pottered off to work in the fields and woods. A certain 
number of them went down to the church, where the 
professor and I followed them. They sat about outside 
until a priest appeared with the keys ; then a service 
began, apparently quite at haphazard. Two or three 
would start intoning some kind of psalm or litany, and 
others seemed to join in as they thought fit ; two or three 
were reading aloud from large manuscripts supported on 
folding rests ; others leant on their praying-sticks or 
squatted in corners muttering. Now and then one would 
stop on his way to work, kiss the door on the inner wall, 
and pass on. The frescoes of the inner sanctuary were 
hung with green cixrtains ; one of the priests pointed to 
them and explained in dumb show that they would be 
drawn for our inspection later in the day. 

We returned to our tent for breakfast. Beer and an- 
chovies seemed rather discouraging after our chilly night, 
but there was no alternative except tinned loganberries 
and foie gras. The guard came in, finished the beer, and 
ate some bread and honey. He showed great interest in 
our belongings, fingering everything in turn -the 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


85 

tin-opener, electric torch, a pocket-knife, a pair of hair- 
brushes. I let him play with the sword-stick I happened 
to have brought with me ; he in exchange showed me his 
rifle and bandolier. About half the cartridges were empty 
shells ; the weapon was in very poor condition. It could 
not possibly have been used with any accuracy, and pro- 
bably not with safety. I asked whether he had ever 
killed anything with it ; he shook his head, and produced 
a large, rather blunt dagger, which he stabbed into the 
earth. 

Presently the chauffeur came to assure us that he had 
spent a very comfortable night and felt fairly confident 
that he would be able to extricate the car from its posi- 
tion on the path, where it blocked all approach to the 
monastery and was causing a good deal of trouble to the 
herdsmen in charge of the community’s cattle. We told 
him to remain at hand to act as interpreter, and soon a 
priest came to conduct us to the churches. There were 
two of these ; the main building, where we had already 
been, and a small shrine, containing a cross which had 
fallen from heaven. The professor thought this might be 
a piece of the true cross brought there from Alexandria 
after the Arab invasion, and showed great interest and 
veneration ; we were not allowed to see it, but as a 
special concession we were shown the shawl in which it 
was wrapped. 

In the main church we paid a fee of seven dollars to 
have the frescoes unveiled. They had lately been re- 
painted in brilliant colours and the priest was justly proud 
of the renovation. On one wall were portraits of Ras 
Kassa, Menelik, and the late empress. It was clear that 
these heads had been copied from photographs, with the 
curious result that they stood out solidly, in carefully 
articulated light and shade and great fidelity of detail, 
against a composition of purely conventional pre- 
Renaissance design. Another wall was filled with rider 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


86 

saints. The professor made a plan of it and took down 
their names. We were then shown some brass pro- 
cessional crosses and some illuminated missals, none of 
any great antiquity. It was, in fact, a curious feature of 
Debra Lebanos that, although the community had been 
the centre of Abyssinian spiritual life since very early 
days in the conversion of the country, and had been 
settled on this spot for several centuries, they seem to have 
preserved no single object from the past. It may be that 
their treasures have all been pillaged in the continual in- 
vasions and disorders of Abyssinian history, or that they 
have been sold from time to time in moments of financial 
need, or perhaps simply that they did not choose to show 
them to strangers. 

One thing, however, we did see of the greatest interest. 
That was the sanctuary. We might not, of course, enter 
it, but the priest drew back the curtain for us and allowed 
a short glimpse of the dark interior. In the centre stood 
the tabor, which is both altar-stone and tabernacle, a 
wooden cupboard built like a miniature church in three 
tiers, square at the base, from which rose an octagonal 
story surmounted by a circular dome. Round the tabor, 
in deep dust, for the sanctuary is rarely, if ever, swept 
out, lay an astonishing confusion of litter. There was 
not time to take in everything, but, in the brief inspection, 
I noticed a wicker chair, some heaps of clothes, two or 
three xunbrellas, a suitcase of imitation leather, some 
newspapers, and a teapot and slop-pail of enamelled tin. 

It was about ten o’clock when we left the church ; 
there was a Mass at one o’clock, which we were both 
anxious to attend, which would not be over until half-past 
two or three. We were thus undecided about our move- 
ments. We might spend another night there and start 
back early next day for Addis Ababa ; we might go and 
see Fiche, Kassa’s capital fifteen miles away, and spend a 
night in the car there, or we might start immediately after 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


87 

Mass and try to get to Addis that night. The chauffeur 
favoured the last plan and was hopeful of his ability, now 
that he knew the way, of doing the journey in five or six 
hours. We had not provisions to last us in any comfort 
for two days, and I was reluctant to fall back on Abys- 
sinian food. Together we persuaded the professor to 
attempt the journey ; if the worst came to the worst we 
could spend the night on the plain ; a prospect to which 
the chauffeur added romance with gloomy stories of wild 
beasts and brigands. As the sun mounted, it became 
intensely hot. We lay in the tent smoking and dozing 
until the abuna came to conduct us to Mass. 

I will not attempt any description of the ritual ; the 
liturgy was quite imintelligible to me, and, oddly enough, 
to the professor also. No doubt the canon of the Mass 
would have been in part familiar, but this was said in the 
sanctuary behind closed doors. We stood in the outer 
ambulatory. A carpet was placed for us to stand on and 
we were given praying-sticks, with the aid of which we 
stood throughout the two hours of service. There were 
twenty or thirty monks round us and some women and 
babies from the tukals. Communion was administered to 
the babies, but to no one else. Many of the monks were 
crippled or deformed in some way ; presumably they 
were pilgrims who had originally come to the spring in 
the hope of a cure, and had become absorbed into the 
life of the place. There seemed to be very little system of 
testing vocations in the community. The priests and 
deacons wore long, white-and-gold cloaks and turbans, 
and had bare feet. Now and then they emerged from 
the sanctuary, and once they walked round in procession. 
The singing was monotonous and more or less continuous, 
accompanied by a drum and sistrums.^ For anyone 
accustomed to the Western rite it was difficult to think of 
this as a Christian service, for it bore that secret and 

* Silver ratdes. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


88 

confused character which I had hitherto associated with 
the non-Christian sects of the East. 

I had sometimes thought it an odd thing that Western 
Christianity, alone of all the religions of the world, 
exposes its mysteries to every observer, but I was so 
accustomed to this openness that I had never before ques- 
tioned whether it was an essential and natural feature 
of the Christian system. Indeed, so saturated are we in 
this spirit that many people regard the growth of the 
Church as a process of elaboration — even of obfuscation ; 
they visualise the Church of the first century as a little 
cluster of pious people reading the Gospels together, 
praying and admonishing each other with a simplicity to 
which the high ceremonies and subtle theology of later 
years would have been bewildering and unrecognisable. 
At Debra Lebanos I suddenly saw the classic basilica and 
open altar as a great positive achievement, a triumph of 
light over darkness consciously accomplished, and I saw 
theology as the science of simplification by which nebu- 
lous and elusive ideas are formalised and made intelligible 
and exact. I saw the Church of the first century as a dark 
and hidden thing, as dark and hidden as the seed germin- 
ating in the womb ; legionaries off duty slipping fur- 
tively out of barracks, greeting each other by signs and 
passwords in a locked upper room in the side street of 
some Mediterranean seaport ; slaves at dawn creeping 
from the grey twilight into the candle-lit, smoky chapels 
of the catacombs. The priests hid their office, practising 
trades ; their identity was known only to initiates ; they 
were criminals against the law of their country. And the 
pure nucleus of the truth lay in the minds of the people, 
encumbered with superstitions, gross survivals of the 
paganism in which they had been brought up ; hazy and 
obscene nonsense seeping through from the other esoteric 
cults of the Near East, magical infections from the con- 
quered barbarian. And I began to see how these obscure 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


89 

sanctuaries had grown, with the clarity of the Western 
reason, into the great open altars of Catholic Europe, 
where Mass is said in a flood of light, high in the sight 
of all, while tourists can clatter round with their Baedekers, 
incurious of the mystery. 

By the time Mass was over, our chauffeur had suc- 
ceeded in the remarkable and hazardous feat of backing 
the car up the path. We said good-bye to the abuna and 
climbed the ravine, attended by a troop of small deacons. 
When we at last reached the top the professor took from 
his pocket a handful of half-piastre pieces with which he 
had secretly provided himself. He ordered the children 
to line up, and our boy cuffed and jostled them into some 
kind of order. Then he presented them with a coin 
apiece. They had clearly not expected any such donation, 
but they quickly got the hang of the business, and, as soon 
as they were paid, queued up again at the back. Our boy 
detected this simple deception and drove away the second- 
comers. When each had received his half-piastre, and 
some had grabbed two, there were still a number of 
coins left over. “ Do you think,” asked the professor 
rather timidly, “ that it would be very vulgar and trip- 
perish to make them scramble for them ? ” 

“ Yes,” I said. 

“ Of course it would,” said the professor decidedly. 
“ Quite out of the question.” 

The deacons, however, continued to caper round us, 
crying for more and clinging to the car, so that it became 
impossible to start without endangering several lives. 
“ n’a pas d’importance,” said the chauffeur inevitably, 
cranking up the engine. The professor, however, pre- 
ferred a more humane release. “ Perhaps, after all . . .” 
he said, and threw his handful of money among the 
children. The last we saw of Debra Lebanos was a 
scrambling heap of naked black limbs and a cloud of dust. 
It was interesting to be in at the birth of a tradition. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


90 

Whoever in future goes to Debra Lebanos will, without 
doubt, find himself beset by these rapacious children ; 
Professor W. had taught them the first easy lesson of 
civilisation. It is curious how Americans, however 
cultured, seem incapable of neglecting this form of 
instruction. 

Our journey back for the first three hours was unevent- 
ful. We made good time on the downs, and darkness 
found us at the beginning of the plain. From then on- 
wards progress was slow and uncertain. Four or five 
times we lost the track and continued out of our way until 
a patch of bush or marsh brought us up short. Twice we 
got stuck and had to push our way out ; two or three 
times we were nearly overturned by sudden subsidences 
into the water courses. It was these channels that enabled 
us to find our way, for they all ran at right angles to our 
route. When we reached one the Armenian and the boy 
would take opposite sides and follow the bank down until 
one of them reached the crossing ; there would then be 
whistles and signals and we resumed the right road. 

At each check, the professor made up his mind to stop. 
“ It is quite impossible. We shall never find the road 
until daylight. We may be going miles out of our way. 
It is dangerous and futile. We had far better spend the 
night here and go back at dawn.” 

Then the driver would return with news of success. 
“ J’ai decide ; nous arrStons ici,” the professor would 
say. 

“ Ah,” came the invariable response, “ Vous savez, 
monsieur, 9a n’a pas d’importance.” 

Throughout the jotirney the boy sat on the mudguard 
in front, picking out the rare stones and hoof-marks which 
directed us. Once, however, the Armenian despaired. 
We had all walked round and round for half an hour in 
widening circles, searching the completely blank earth 
with electric torches. We came back defeated. It was 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


91 

now about ten o’clock and bitterly cold. We were just 
discussing bow we could possibly keep ourselves warm 
during the coming eight hours, when the boy saw lights 
ahead. We drove on and ran straight into a caravan 
bivouacked round a camp-fire. Our arrival caused great 
consternation in the camp. Men and women ran out of 
the tents or sprang out of the ground from huddled heaps 
of blankets ; the animals sprang up and strained at their 
tethers or tumbled about with hobbled legs. Rifles were 
levelled at us. The Armenian strode into their midst, 
however, and, after distributing minute sums of money as 
a sign of goodwill, elicited directions. 

Our worst check was within sight of Addis, on the 
top of Entoto. This part of the journey had seemed 
perilous enough by daylight, but by now we were so stiff 
and cold as to be indifferent to any other consideration. 
Twice we pulled up within a few feet of the precipice, the 
boy having fallen asleep on the mudguard where he sat. 
We got stuck again with two wheels in the air and two in 
a deep gully, but eventually we found the road and at that 
moment ran out of petrol. Two minutes earlier this 
disaster would have been insuperable. From now on, 
however, it was all downhill and we ran into the town 
without the engine. When at last we reached the 
professor’s hotel we were too tired to say good night. He 
silently picked up his bottles of holy water and, with a 
little nod, went up to his room, and I had fallen asleep 
before he was out of sight. A sulky night-porter foimd 
us a can of petrol and we drove on to the H6tel de France. 
The manager was sitting up for me with a boiling kettle 
and a bottle of rum. I slept well that night. 



92 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


FIVE 

In London, full of ingenuous eagerness to get aboard, I 
had booked my ticket through to Zanzibar, between 
which island and Djibouti the Messageries Maritimes 
maintain a fortnightly service. Now, with everyone else 
going home, I began rather to regret the arrangement 
and think wistfully of an Irish Christmas. The next 
ship, the GdnSral Voyson was not due for ten days, and the 
prospect of spending the time either at Addis Ababa or 
Djibouti was unattractive. The difficulty (and of course 
the charm) of Abyssinia is the inaccessibility of the in- 
terior. I should dearly have liked to make a journey 
north to Axum or Lallibella, but this would require 
camping-equipment and the organisation of a caravan ; 
it would take many weeks and more money than I could 
conveniently afford ; even so, I would have attempted it 
if I had been able to find a companion, but no one seemed 
ready to come, and it seemed futile to set out alone in 
complete ignorance of the geography and language of the 
country. I was on the point of forfeiting my ticket and 
joining the Italian ship by which Irene was sailing north, 
when Mr. Plowman, the British consul at Harar, who 
with his family was visiting the capital for the coronation, 
very kindly suggested that I should return with him and 
break my journey at his home for a few days. No sug- 
gestion could have been more delightful. There was 
glamour in all the associations of Harar, the Arab city- 
state which stood first among the fruits of Ethiopian 
imperialism, the scene of Sir Richard Burton’s First Steps 
in Africa, the market where the caravans met between 
coast and highlands ; where Gklla, Somali, and Arab 
interbred to produce women whose beauty was renowned 
throughout East Africa. There is talk of a motor-road 
that is to connect it with the railway, but at present it must 
still be approached by the tortuous hill-pass and small 



REMOTE PEOPLE 93 

track along which Arthure Rimbaud had sent rifles to 
Menelik. 

Except for one overpowering afternoon spent scramb- 
ling with Irene through the forest of Jemjem in hopeless 
pursuit of black-and-white monkeys, the last days before 
we left Addis were agreeably quiet and enabled us to 
readjust our rather feverish impressions of the town and 
its inhabitants. On the morning of November 15th we 
left by the last of the special trains. The departures took 
place with far less formality than the arrivals. There was 
no band, but the platform was crowded with the whole 
European population. Even our Armenian chauffeur 
came to see us off ; the carriage in which I travelled was 
filled with little bunches of flowers hung there by the 
servants of one of the British officials who was going 
home on leave. Mr. Hall was there with eye-glass and 
top hat. He trusted that anything I wrote about Abys- 
sinia would be friendly and sympathetic. I assured him 
that it would be so. 

Next day at dawn we arrived at Dirre-Dowa, and the 
Plowmans and I took leave of our fellow passengers. We 
had all spent a practically sleepless night, and for the 
greater part of that hot Sunday we remained in our rooms 
at Bollolakos’ hotel. I went to Mass at a church full of 
odious French children, washed in a sandy bath, slept, 
and wrote an article on Abyssinian politics to post to my 
paper. As I sealed up the envelope I had the agreeable 
feeling of being once more a free man. I could now come 
and go as I liked. I cotild meet people without seeing in 
their eye the embarrassed consciousness that they were 
talking to “ the Press ” ; it affected people in various 
ways, some were reticent to the verge of rudeness, others 
so expansive as to be almost tedious, but no one, I found, 
treated a journalist quite as a fellow human being. 

We dined that evening in a pleasant little party con- 
sisting of the Plowmans and their governess, the Cypriote 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


94 

manager of the local bank, Mr. Hall’s brother, who was 
in business at Dirre-Dowa, and his wife, an English lady 
who wore a large enamelled brooch made in commemora- 
tion of the opening of Epping Forest to the public and 
presented to her father who was, at the time, an alderman 
of the City of London. We sat in the open under an 
orange-tree and drank chianti and gossiped about the 
coronation, while many hundreds of small red ants over- 
ran the table and fell on to our heads from above. 

The Plowmans’ horses had not arrived that day, so 
that their start would have to be delayed until Tuesday 
morning and their arrival at Harar until Thursday. The 
director of the railway had wired to the station-master at 
Dirre-Dowa to reserve mules and servants for me, and I 
decided to avail myself of them next day and reach Harar 
a day ahead of my hosts. I felt that it was, in a way, 
more suitable to enter the town alone and lonofiicially. 

Accordingly, I set out early next morning, riding a 
lethargic grey mule, accompanied by a mounted Abys- 
sinian guide who spoke French, an aged groom who at- 
tached himself to me against my express orders, and a 
Galla porter, of singularly villainous expression, to carry 
my luggage. We had not been going long before this 
man, easily out-distancing our beasts, disappeared into 
the hills with great lurching strides, the bag containing 
my passport, letter of credit, and all of my essential 
clothes balanced negligently on his head. I became ap- 
prehensive, and the guide was anything but reassuring. 
All Gallas were dishonest, he explained, and this one was 
a particularly dirty type. He disclaimed all responsibility 
for engaging him ; that had been done by the station- 
master ; he himself would never have chosen a man of 
such obvious criminal characteristics. It was not unusual 
for porters to desert with the luggage ; there was no 
catching them once they got over the hills among their 
own people ; they had murdered an Indian not long ago 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


95 

in circumstances of peculiar atrocity. But it was possible, 
he added, that the man had merely hurried on to take his 
khat.^ 

This was, in fact, what had happened. We came upon 
him again some hours later, squatting by the roadside 
with his lap full of the leaves and his teeth and mouth 
green with chewing ; his expression had softened consid- 
erably under the influence of the drug, and for the rest 
of the journey he was docile enough, trailing along be- 
hind us in a slightly bemused condition. 

For the first few miles we followed the river-bed, a 
broad stretch of sand which for a few hours in the year is 
flooded from bank to bank with a turgid mountain torrent, 
which sweeps down timber and boulders and carries away 
the accumulated refuse of the town. It was now nearing 
the end of the dry season and the way was soft and pow- 
dery ; it was heavy going until we reached the foot of 
the caravan route. There is a short cut over the hills 
which is used by foot passengers and riders who are much 
pressed for time ; on the guide’s advice we chose the 
longer and more leisurely road which winds in a long 
detour round the spur and joins the rock path at the 
summit. It is about four hours from the hotel to the up- 
lands by this road. The mules took things easily ; it was 
necessary to beat them more or less continually to keep 
them moving at all. At the top we paused for a rest. 

Behind us, as far as we coifld see, the country was 
utterly desolate ; the hillside up which we had climbed 
was covered with colourless sand and rock, and beyond, 
on the other side of the valley, rose other hills equally 

^ This is a herb of mildly intoxicating properties eaten extensively by 
Arabs and the Mohammedan peoples of East Africa. Its effect is tem- 
porarily stimulating, but enervating in the long run. Habitual khat 
chewers are said to be more satisfactory as workmen, but less satisfactory as 
husbands. It is bitter in taste, rather like sorrel. I ate a leaf or two with- 
out noticing any effect ; the real addict browses every morning on a great 
bundle. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


96 

bare of dwelling or cultivation. The only sign of life was 
a caravan of camels, roped nose to tail, following us a 
mile or so below. In front of us everything was changed. 
This was G^alla country, full of little villages and roughly 
demarcated arable plots. The road in places was bor- 
dered with cactus and flowering euphorbia-trees ; the 
air was fresh and vital. 

Another three hours brought us to a native inn, where 
the boys hoped to get some food. The landlord, however, 
told us that the local governor had recently cancelled his 
licence, an injustice which he attributed to the rivalry of 
the Greek who kept the rest house at Haramaya. He 
provided them with a tin can full of talluy which the two 
Christians drank ; the Mohammedan religiously con- 
tenting himself with another handful of khat. Then we 
went on. In another hour we were in sight of the lake 
of Haramaya, a welcoming sheet of light between two 
green hills. It was here that we proposed to break the 
journey for a night. It is not difiictdt to ride through in 
one day on a pony ; it is quite possible on a mule, but 
most people prefer to wait until the next morning. It is 
another four hours on, and four hours at that stage seem 
barely supportable. Moreover, the gates of the city are 
shut at sundown and it is sometimes diflicult to obtain 
admission after that time. I was tired out, and at the 
sight of water the mules for the first time showed some 
sign of interest. Indeed, it became impossible to keep 
them to the path, so I left the boys to water them and 
walked the last mile round the lake to the rest house. 

This was a single-storied, white building comprising a 
dining-room, kitchen, verandah, and four minute bed- 
rooms. The accommodation was very simple ; there 
was, of course, no bath or sanitation and no glass in the 
windows. There was, however, a most delightfully 
amiable young Greek in charge of it, who got me a meal 
and talked incessantly in very obscure English. It was 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


97 

now about three o’clock. Seeing that I was tired, he said 
he would make me a cocktail. He took a large glass and 
poured into it whiskey, creme de menthe, and Fernet 
Branca, and filled up with soda-water. He made himself 
a glass of the same mixture, clinked glasses, and said, 
“ Cheerioh, damned sorry no ice.” As a matter of fact, 
it was surprisingly refreshing. After luncheon I went to 
my room and slept until late in the evening. 

We dined together on tinned spaghetti and exceedingly 
tough fried chicken. He prattled on about his home in 
Alexandria and his sister who was taking a secretarial 
course and his rich uncle who lived at Dirre-Dowa and 
had set him up in the inn. I asked what the xmcle did, 
and he said he had a “ monopole ” ; this seemed to be a 
perfectly adequate description of almost all commercial 
ventures in Abyssinia. I could not gather what he mono- 
polised ; whatever it was seemed extremely profitable 
and involved frequent excursions to Aden. The nephew 
hoped to succeed to the business on his imcle’s retire- 
ment. 

While we were dining, two heavily armed soldiers 
appeared with a message for my host. He seemed mildly 
put out by their arrival, explaining with great simplicity 
that he was involved in an affair with an elderly Abys- 
sinian lady of high birth ; she was not very attractive, 
but what choice had he in a remote place like this ? She 
was generous, but very exacting. Only that afternoon 
he had been with her and here were her retainers come 
to fetch him again. He gave them each a cigarette and 
told them to wait. When they had finished smoking, 
they returned ; he offered them more cigarettes, but 
they refused ; apparently their mistress was impatient ; 
the yotmg man shrugged and, excusing himself with the 
phrase (typical of his diction) “ You won’t allow me, 
won’t you ? ” went away with them into the darkness. 

I returned to my bed and slept. 

Gp 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


98 

Next morning we rode into Harar. The way was full 
of traffic, caravans of camels, mules and asses, horsemen, 
and teams of women bent double under prodigious loads 
of wood. There were no carts of any kind ; indeed, I 
think that they are quite unknown in Abyssinia, and that 
the railway engine was the first wheeled vehicle to appear 
there. After three hours’ gentle ride we came in sight of 
the town. Approached from Haramaya it presents a 
quite different aspect from the drawing in Burton’s 
First Steps in Africa ; there it appears as he saw it coming 
from the Somali coast, perched on a commanding hill ; 
we found it lying below us, an irregular brown patch at 
the foot of the hills. In the distance rose the flat-topped 
mountain which the Abyssinians have chosen for their 
refuge in the event of the country rising against them ; 
there is a lake of fresh water at the summit, and a naturally 
fortified camp which they hope to hold against the Galla 
until relief arrives from their own highlands. No one 
may visit the place without a permit from the local 
dedejmatch. 

A few buildings — the British consulate, Lej Yasu’s 
deserted palace, a Capucin leper settlement, a church, and 
the villas of one or two Indian merchants — have spread 
beyond the walls ; outside the main gate a few women 
squatting beside little heaps of grain and peppers con- 
stituted a market ; there was a temporary and rather 
unstable arch of triixmph presented to the town by the 
firm of Mohammedali in honour of the coronation. A 
guard was posted at the gate ; there was also an octroi, 
where we had to leave the luggage until the officer should 
return from his luncheon some hours later. 

As in most mediaeval towns, there was no direct street 
in Harar leading from the gates to the central square. A 
very narrow lane ran, tmder the walls, round numerous 
corners before it turned inwairds and broadened into the 
main street. On either side of this passage stood ruined 




Harar 

The Main Gate showing the Mountain of Refuge in the distance 

From the drawing by Nor ah Plowman P* 9^ 




REMOTE PEOPLE 


99 

houses, desolate heaps of stone and rubble, some of them 
empty, others patched up with tin to accommodate 
goats or poultry. The town, like the numerous lepers 
who inhabit it, seemed to be dying at its extremities ; 
the interior, however, was full of vitality and animation. 

There are two inns in Harar, boasting the names of 
Leon d’Or and Bellevue ; both universally condemned 
as unsuitable jfor European habitation. Any doubt I 
might have had about which to patronise was dissolved, 
as soon as we txirned into the main street, by a stout little 
man in a black skull-cap, who threw himself at my bridle 
and led me to the Leon d’Or. During my brief visit I 
became genuinely attached to this man. He was an 
Armenian of rare character, named Bergebedgian ; he 
spoke a queer kind of French with remarkable volubility, 
and I found great delight in all his opinions ; I do not 
think I have ever met a more tolerant man ; he had no 
prejudice or scruples of race, creed, or morals of any kind 
whatever ; there were in his mind none of those opaque 
patches of inconsidered principles, it was a single trans- 
lucent pool of placid doubt ; whatever splashes of precept 
had disturbed its surface from time to time had left no 
ripple ; reflections flitted to and fro and left it un- 
changed. 

Unfortunately his hotel was less admirable. Most of 
his business was done in the bar, where he sold great 
quantities of a colourless and highly inflammatory spirit 
distilled by a fellow countryman of his and labelled, 
capriciously, “ Very Olde Scotts Whiskey,” “ Fine 
Champayne,” or “ Hollands Gin ” as the taste of his 
clients dictated. Next to the bar was a little dining-room 
where two or three regular customers (also fellow cotzntry- 
men) took their greasy and pungent meals. The bed- 
rooms were built round a little courtyard, where some 
pathetic survivals of a garden were discernible amid the 
heaps of kitchen refuse with which it was littered. This 



too 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


building had formerly been the town house of an Abys- 
sinian official. It was rarely that anyone came to stay ; 
usually not more than one in any three weeks, he said ; 
but, as it happened, there was a second guest at that 
moment, a French clerk on business from the Banque 
d’Indo-Chine at Djibouti. I lunched with this young 
man, who was a punctilious, mannerly person ; the hot 
wind had chapped his lips so that he was unable to smile 
— an affliction which made him seem a little menacing 
in light conversation. It was he who first put into my 
head the deplorable notion of returning to Europe across 
the Congo by the west coast. The proprietor waited on 
us in person, and made it hard to escape the forbidding 
dishes ; we both felt moderately ill after every meal. 

That afternoon I went for a walk round the town and 
saw that a large part of it was in decay. The most 
prominent buildings were the modern Government 
House, the French hospital, Mohammedali’s offices, a 
Capucin mission cathedral, and an ancient mosque with 
two whitewashed minarets ; the rest of the place was 
made up of a bunch of small shops, a few Armenian, 
Greek, and Indian stores, single-roomed dwelling-houses, 
mostly standing back behind grubby little yards, and 
numerous tedj houses, combined brothels and public 
houses which advertise themselves with a red cross over 
the door — a traditional sign which caused some mis- 
understanding when the Swedish medical mission first 
established itself in the country. 

The appearance of the buildings and the people was 
wholly foreign to Abyssinia ; a difference which was 
emphasised on this particular afternoon by the fact that 
all the Abyssinians were indoors at a party at Govern- 
ment House, so that the streets were peopled almost ex- 
clusively by turbaned Harari. The beauty of the women 
was dazzling -far exceeding anything I had expected. 
The native women I had seen at Addis Ababa had been 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


lOI 


far from attractive ; their faces had been plump and 
smug, their hair unbecomingly heaped up in a black, 
fuzzy mass, glittering with melted butter, their figures 
swollen grotesquely with a surfeit of petticoats. The 
women of Harar are slender and very upright ; they carry 
themselves with all the grace of the Somalis, but, instead 
of their monkey-like faces and sooty complexions, they 
had golden brown skins and features of the utmost fine- 
ness. Moreover, there was a delicacy about their 
clothes and ornaments which the Somalis entirely lacked ; 
their hair was plaited into innumerable tight little ropes 
and covered with bright silk shawls ; they wore long 
trousers and silk shawls wound under their arms, leaving 
their shoulders bare. Most of them had bright gold 
ornaments. Burton admits their beauty, but condemns 
their voices as harsh and outstandingly displeasing. I 
cannot conceive what prompted this statement ; in- 
deed, compared with those of Arab women, they seemed 
soft and sweet. (No sound made by mankind is quite so 
painful as the voices of two Arab women at variance.) An 
alliance might be formed with any of these exquisite 
people, the Armenian informed me later, for four thalers 
a month and board. That it was possible that the parents 
might expect more in the case of a foreigner. This sum, 
however, covered the girl’s services in the house, so that 
it was a perfectly sound investment if I intended making 
a stay of any length in the town. I explained that I was 
only there for three days. In that case, he said, it was 
obviously more convenient to confine myself to married 
women. There were certain preliminary formalities to 
be gone through with an unmarried girl which cost time 
and money.* 

I visited the leper settlement ; a little collection of 
tukals outside the walls, in the charge of a French priest. 

* The Harari, in common with, the Somalis and most of the Gallas, 
practise infibulation. 



102 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


Four or five sleep in each hut, an arrangement which the 
old priest explained in what seems to me a very terrible 
phrase, “You understand, monsieur, that it takes several 
lepers to make one man.” 

I went to the cathedral and there met the Bishop of 
Harar, the famous Monsignor Jerome, of whom I had 
heard many reports in Addis Ababa. He has been in the 
country for forty-eight years, suffering, at first, every kind 
of discouragement and persecution, and attaining, to- 
wards the middle of his career, a position of great influ- 
ence at Court. He acted as Tafari’s tutor, and many 
people attributed to him, often in harsh terms, the em- 
peror’s outstanding skill as a political tactician. Lately, 
as his pupil’s ambitions have become realised, the 
bishop’s advice has been less devotedly canvassed. In- 
deed, it is doubtful whether it would still be of great 
value, for he is a very old man now and his mind is losing 
something of its former grasp of public affairs. 

It is his practice to greet all visitors to his church, but 
I did not know this at the time and was greatly startled 
when he suddenly swooped in upon me. He was tall and 
emaciated, like an El Greco saint, with very long white 
hair and beard, great roving eyes, and a nervous, almost 
ecstatic smile ; he advanced at a kind of shuffling jog- 
trot, fluttering his hands and uttering little moans. After 
we had been round the church, which was shabby and 
unremarkable enough, he invited me into his divan to 
talk. I steered the conversation as delicately as I could 
from church expenses to Arthure Rimbaud. At first we 
were at cross purposes, because the bishop, being a little 
deaf, mistook my for “ -prStre^* and inflexibly 

maintained that no Father Rimbaud had ever, to his 
knowledge, ministered in Abyssinia. Later this difficulty 
was cleared up, and the bishop, turning the name over in 
his mind, remembered that he had, in fact, known Rim- 
baud quite well ; a young man with a beard, who was 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


103 

in some trouble with his leg ; a very serious man who 
did not go out much ; he was always worried about 
business ; not a good Catholic, though he had died at 
peace with the Church, the bishop understood, at Mar- 
seille. He used to live with a native woman in a little 
house, now demolished, in the square ; he had no chil- 
dren ; probably the woman was still alive ; she was not 
a native of Harar, and after Rimbaud’s death she had 
gone back to her own people in Tigre ... a very, very 
serious young man, the bishop repeated. He seemed to 
find this epithet the most satisfactory — very serious and 
sad. 

It was rather a disappointing interview. All the way 
to Harar I had nurtured the hope of finding something 
new about Rimbaud, perhaps even to encounter a half- 
caste son keeping a shop in some back street. The only 
significant thing I learned from the bishop was that, 
living in Harar, surrounded by so many radiant women, 
he should have chosen a mate from the stolid people of 
Tigre — a gross and perverse preference. 

That evening, at about six o’clock, Mr. Bergebedgian 
suggested that we might go to the Abyssinian party which 
had now finished luncheon and was settling down to an 
evening’s music at Government House. He himself was 
an indispensable guest, as he had promised the loan of an 
Aladdin lamp, without which they would be left in com- 
plete darkness. Accordingly, we set out and were re- 
ceived with great warmth by the acting governor. A 
considerable sum had apparently been granted to the 
municipality to be spent on rejoicings for the coronation, 
an object which was rightly interpreted as meaning a 
series of parties. They had been going on for a fortnight 
and would continue until the dedejmatch returned from 
the capital. As a symbol of the origin of the feast, a kind 
of altar had been built, at one end of the room, on which 
stood a large photograph of Tafari surrounded by 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


104 

flowers. About fifty Abyssinians in white chammas sat 
round on the floor, already fairly drunk. Green chairs of 
the kind one finds in public parks were set for us at a 
velvet-covered round table. The acting governor sat 
with us and poured out extravagant glasses of whiskey. 
Slaves trotted about among the other guests, distribut- 
ing bottles of German beer. With the appearance of our 
lamp the entertainment began. An orchestra emerged, 
furnished with three single-stringed fiddles. The singer 
was an Abyssinian woman of startling girth. She sang 
in a harsh voice, panting for breath between each line. 
It was an immensely long ballad of patriotic sentiment. 
The name Haile Selassie recurred with great regularity. 
No one paid any more attention than they would have at 
a musical party in E\irope, but she sang on cheerfully, 
through the buzz of conversation, with an expression of 
settled amiability. When a gate-crasher was detected 
and expelled with some disorder, she merely turned 
round and watched the proceedings, still singing lustily. 
At the end of her song she was given some beer and many 
friendly smacks on the behind. The whiskey was re- 
served for us and for a few favoured guests ; the host 
singled these out, called for their glasses, and poured it 
into their beer from the bottle on the table. 

The second song was a great deal longer than the first ; 
it was of the kind, popular in European cabarets, which 
introduces references to members of the audience. Each 
name was greeted with cheers and a good deal of bois- 
terous back-smacking. The host asked otur names and 
repeated them in her ear, but they came out so distorted, 
if they came out at all, as to be wholly unrecognisable. 
After about two hours, Mr. Bergebedgian said he must 
return to the inn and see to the dinner. This was the 
signal for a general movement ; three or four notables 
were invited to the table, wine-glasses were produced, a 
dish of sponge fingers, and finally a bottle of champagne. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


105 

We drank each other’s health, making graceful unintel- 
ligible little speeches in our own languages. Then, after 
much handshaking, we returned to the inn, leaving oixr 
Aladdin lamp at the party. 

After a profoundly indigestible dinner, Mr. Berge- 
bedgian joined us - the unsmiling clerk and myself - in 
a glass of a disturbing liqueur labelled “ Koniak.” Pre- 
sently he said, would we like to go to another party ? 
There was a wedding in the town. We said that we 
should like to go very much. This time our expedi- 
tion was attended with grave precautions. First, Mr. 
Bergebedgian buckled on bandolier and revolver-holster ; 
then he went to the cash-desk and produced a heavy 
automatic pistol, charged the magazine, and tucked it 
into place ; then he reached xmder the bar and drew out 
four or five wooden clubs, which he dealt out to his 
servants ; the bank-clerk showed a revolver, I my sword 
stick ; he nodded approval. It was all very much like 
Rat’s preparation for the attack on Toad Hall. Then he 
barred up the house, a process involving innumerable 
bolts and padlocks. At last, attended by three servants 
with staves and a storm lantern, we set out. Things were 
safer at Harar than they used to be, he explained, but it 
was wiser to take no risks. As we emerged into the 
street, a hyasna flashed red eyes at us and scuttled off. 
I do not know how hyaenas have got their reputation for 
laughing. Abyssinia is full of them ; they come into 
the towns at night scavenging and performing the less 
valuable service of nosing up corpses in the cemeteries ; 
they used to bay all round the hotel at Addis Ababa, and 
the next night, which I spent in a tent in the Plowmans’ 
garden, was disturbed by a small pack of them crunching 
bones within a few yards of my bed, but not once did I 
hear anything approaching a laugh. 

The streets were pitch black — not a lighted window 
showed anywhere - and, except for hyaenas, dogs, and 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


io6 

cats fighting over the refuse, totally deserted. Our way 
led down a narrow passage, between high, crumbling 
walls, which was sometimes graded in steps and some- 
times sloped steeply inwards to a dry gutter. Our first 
stop was at the house of a Greek grocer. We beat on the 
shutters, behind which a crack of light was immediately 
extinguished. Mr. Bergebedgian called his name, and 
presently a little peep opened and a pair of eyes appeared. 
Some civilities were exchanged, and then, after much 
drawing of bolts, we were admitted. The grocer offered 
us “ koniak ” and cigarettes. Mr. Bergebedgian ex- 
plained that we wanted him to accompany us to the party. 
He refused, explaining that he had to make up his books. 
Mr. Bergebedgian, accordingly, borrowed some small 
silver (a loan which, I observed, was duly noted in the 
accounts) and we took our leave. More black, empty 
alleys. Suddenly a policeman rocketed up from the gutter 
where he had been taking a rest, and challenged us with 
some ferocity. Mr. Bergebedgian replied with a mock 
flourish of his revolver ; some light exchange of chaff and 
back-chat followed, in the course of which the policeman 
decided to join the party. After a few minutes we found 
another policeman, huddled in his blanket on the counter 
of a deserted greengrocer’s stall ; they shook him awake 
and brought him along with us. At last we reached a 
small courtyard, beyond which, from a lighted door, 
came the sound of singing. 

No doubt we looked rather a formidable gang as 
we stalked in bristling with weapons, but it was 
probably the sight of the two policemen which caused 
most alarm. Anyway, whatever the reason, wild panic 
followed our entry. There was only one door, through 
which we had come, and a stream of Harari girls dashed 
past us, jostling, stumbling, and squealing ; others cow- 
ered away under their shawls or attempted to climb the 
steps which led to a little loft. Mr. Bergebedgian 



REMOTE PEOPLE IO7 

repeatedly explained our pacific intentions, but it was some 
time before confidence was restored. Then a young man 
appeared with chairs for us and the dance was resumed. 

The house consisted of a single room with a gallery 
full of coffee sacks at one end approached by a ladder. 
This corner was the kitchen. A large stove, built of clay 
and rubble, stood under the ladder, and two or three 
earthenware jars and pots lay on and around it. Opposite 
the door the floor was raised in a carpeted dais which 
extended in a narrow ledge down the adjoining wall. It 
was here that our chairs were set. The few men of the 
party lounged round the door ; the girls squatted together 
on the dais ; the dance took place in the well of the floor 
to the music of the girls, singing, and the beating of hand 
drums. It was a pretty scene, lit by a single oil-lamp ; 
the walls were decorated with coloured wickerwork 
plates ; a brazier of charcoal and incense stood in one 
corner ; a wicker dish of sweets was passed from one 
delicate henna-stained hand to another among the girls on 
the dais. 

The dance was of the simplest kind. One girl and two 
men stood opposite each other ; the girl wore a shawl 
on her head and the men held their chammas over the 
lower part of their faces. They shufiled up to each other 
and shuffled back ; after several repetitions of this move- 
ment they crossed over, revolving as they passed each 
other, and repeated the figure from opposite sides. As 
the girl came to our end, Mr. Bergebedgian pulled her 
shawl off. “ Look,” he said, “ hasn’t she got nice 
hair ? ” She recovered it crossly and Mr. Bergebedgian 
began teasing her, twitching it back every time she 
passed. But he was a soft-hearted fellow and he desisted 
as soon as he realised that he was causing genuine dis- 
tress. 

This was the bride’s house that we were in ; a second 
party was in progress in another part of the town at the 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


io8 

home of the bridegroom. We went to visit it and found 
it precisely similar in character, but very much larger 
and more splendid. Clearly the girl had made a good 
match. These parties are kept up every night for a week 
before the wedding ; the bride’s friends and relations in 
her home, the bridegroom’s in his. They do not mix until 
the actual wedding-day. For some reason which I could 
not fathom they had lately come under ban of the law ; 
hence the consternation at our arrival. We stayed for 
about an hour and then returned to the hotel. The police- 
man came in with us and hung about until they were given 
a tumblerful each of neat spirit. Sleep was difficult that 
night, for the pillows were hard as boards, and through 
the windows, devoid of glass and shutters, came the in- 
cessant barking of dogs and hysenas and the occasional 
wailing horns of the town guard. 

Next morning the bank-clerk rode away and Mr. 
Bergebedgian took me for a walk in the town. He was 
a remarkable guide. We went into the shops of all his 
friends and drank delicious coffee and smoked cigarettes ; 
he seemed to have small financial transactions with all of 
them, paying out a thaler here, receiving another there. 
We went into the law-courts, where we saw a magistrate 
trying a case about real property ; for some reason both 
litigants and all the witnesses were in chains ; the plain- 
tiff was a Galla who pleaded his own cause through an 
interpreter. He became so eager about his wrongs that 
the interpreter was unable to keep up with him, and 
after repeated admonishments left him to finish his case 
in his own tongue. Behind the court was a lion in a 
wooden cage so small that he could barely move in it, 
so foul that the air of the whole yard was insupportable. 
We saw the great hall used for the raw-beef banquets. A 
group of slave-boys were being instructed in squad drill 
by an older boy with a stick. The commands were 
recognisably of English origin - presumably imported 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


109 

by some old soldier from the K.A.R. We went into the 
prison, a place of frightful filth, only comparable to the 
lion’s cage. Mr. Bergebedgian, in whose character there 
was a marked strain of timidity, was very reluctant to 
enter, saying that three or four deaths occurred there 
every week from typhus ; a flea from any one of the 
prisoners would kill us both. That evening in my bath I 
found myself covered with flea-bites, and remembered this 
information with some apprehension. I was not really at 
ease in my mind until the time was over for the disease 
to show itself. The cells stood round a small yard ; 
three or four men were tethered to the wall of each cell, 
with chains just long enough to allow of their crawling 
into the open. Those who were fed by their families 
never left the buildings ; the others were allowed to 
earn their keep by working in gangs on the roads. The 
lot of the more neglected seemed by far preferable. Most 
of the prisoners were there for debt, often for quite 
trifling siuns ; they remained there until they paid or, 
more probably, died. There were no less than three 
prisons in Harar. My servant got locked up one day for 
a breach of the sanitary regulations and I had to pay five 
dollars to get him out. He remarked, with some jus- 
tice, how could one tell that there were any sanitary 
regulations in Harar ? In his opinion, it was a put-up 
job because he was a stranger. 

We went into the two or three tedj houses. At this 
stage of the morning they were fairly empty, some had 
no customers at all, in others a few dissipated men, who 
had slept the night there, squatted holding their heads, 
quarrelling with the women about the reckoning ; at 
only one did we find any gaiety, where a party just 
arrived from the country were starting to get drunk ; 
each sat beside a decanter of cloudy tedj ; one of them 
was playing a kind of banjo. The women were, without 
exception, grossly ugly. Mr. Bergebedgian drew back 



no 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


a sleeve and exhibited a sore on the shoulder of one of 
them. “ A dirty lot,” he said, giving her an affectionate 
pat and a half-piastre bit. 

We went through the bazaar, Mr. Bergebedgian dis- 
paraging all the goods in the friendliest way possible, 
and I bought some silver bangles which he obtained for 
me at a negligible fraction of their original price. We 
went into several private houses, where Mr. Bergebed- 
gian examined and exhibited everything, pulling clothes 
out of the chests, bringing down bags of spice from the 
shelves, opening the oven and tasting the food, pinching 
the girls, and giving half-piastre pieces to the children. 
We went into a workshop where three or four girls of 
dazzling beauty were at work making tables and trays 
of fine, brilliantly-patterned basketwork. Everywhere 
he went he seemed to be welcome ; everywhere he not 
only adapted, but completely transformed, his manners 
to the environment. When I came to consider the ques- 
tion I was surprised to realise that the two most accom- 
plished men I met during this six months I was abroad, 
the chauffeur who took us to Debra Lebanos and Mr. 
Bergebedgian, should both have been Armenians. A 
race of rare competence and the most delicate sensibility. 
They seem to me the only genuine “ men of the world.” 
I suppose everyone at times likes to picture himself as 
such a person. Sometimes, when I find that elusive 
ideal looming too attractively, when I envy among my 
friends this one’s adaptability to diverse company, this 
one’s cosmopolitan experience, this one’s impenetrable 
armour against sentimentality and humbug, that one’s 
freedom from conventional prejudices, this one’s astute 
ordering of his finances and nicely calculated hospitality, 
and realise that, whatever happens to me and however I 
deplore it, I shall never in actual fact become a “ hard- 
boiled man of the world ” of the kind I read about in the 
novels I sometimes obtain at bookstalls for short railway 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


III 


journeys ; that I shall always be ill at ease with nine out 
of every ten people I meet ; that I shall always find some- 
thing startling and rather abhorrent in the things most 
other people think worth doing, and something puzzling 
in their standards of importance ; that I shall probably 
be increasingly, rather than decreasingly, vulnerable to 
the inevitable minor disasters and injustices of life — 
then I comfort myself a little by thinking that, perhaps, 
if I were an Armenian I should find things easier. 

After luncheon, a very discomforting meal, I assembled 
my staff and rode out to the consulate on the hillside 
opposite, where the Plowmans had returned that morn- 
ing. It was a house of some age, standing in a large 
garden, and here I spent three restful days. 

The consul and I went to another celebration at Gov- 
ernment House, an afternoon party for the six or seven 
European residents — the French doctor, two priests, 
two Swedish school-teachers, and the Italian consul. We 
sat round a table in the same room and drank champagne 
and ate sponge fingers. I visited Mr. Bergebedgian 
once or twice and saw the religious dances at the church 
for the feast of St. Michael. Then I resumed my travels. 
I had intended to stay there for only two nights, having 
an idea that my train to Djibouti left Dirre-Dowa on 
Saturday evening. I was assured, however, that it was 
not until Sunday, so I stayed on until Saturday afternoon, 
resting that night at Haramaya and reaching the station 
after a tiring but uneventful ride at midday on Sunday. 

There I learned that my train had left on the previous 
evening. The next started on Tuesday morning and 
arrived at Djibouti about two hours after the advertised 
time of the General Voyron's sailing. I telegraphed to the 
Messageries’ agent, begging him to delay the ship, and 
resigned myself to a tedious week-end. 




FIRST NIGHTMARE 


Hp 




FIRST NIGHTMARE 


When we have been home from abroad for a week or 
two, and time after time, in answer to our friends’ polite 
enquiries, we have retold our experiences, letting phrase 
engender phrase, imtil we have made quite a good story 
of it all ; when the unusual people we encountered have, 
in retrospect, become fabulous and fantastic, and all the 
checks and uncertainties of travel have become very 
serious dangers ; when the minor annoyances assixme 
heroic proportions and have become, at the luncheon- 
table, barely endurable privations ; even before that, 
when in the later stages of our journey we reread in our 
diaries the somewhat bald chronicle of the preceding 
months — how very little attention do we pay, among all 
these false frights and bogies, to the stark horrors of 
boredom. 

It seems to me that not nearly enough has been said 
about this aspect of travel. No one can have any con- 
ception of what boredom really means until he has 
been to the tropics. The boredom of civilised life is 
trivial and terminable, a puny thing to be strangled be- 
tween finger and thumb. The blackest things in Euro- 
pean social life — rich women talking about their poverty, 
poor women talking about their wealth, week-end parties 
of Cambridge aesthetes or lecturers from the London 
School of Economics, rival Byzantinists at variance, 
actresses oflf the stage, psychologists explaining one’s 
own books to one, Americans explaining how much they 
have drunk lately, house-flies at early morning in the 
South of France, amateur novelists talking about royal- 
ties and reviews, amateur journalists, quarrelling lovers, 
mystical atheists, raconteurs, dogs, Jews conversant with 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


Il6 

the group movements of Montparnasse, people who 
try to look inscrutable, the very terrors, indeed, which 
drive one to refuge in the still-remote regions of the 
earth, are mere pansies and pimpernels to the rank 
flowers which flame grossly in those dark and steaming 
sanctuaries. 

I am constitutionally a martyr to boredom, but never 
in Europe have I been so desperately and degradingly 
bored as I was during the next four days ; they were as 
black and timeless as Damnation ; a handful of fine 
ashes thrown into the eyes, a blanket over the face, a mass 
of soft clay knee deep. My diary reminds me of my 
suffering in those very words, but the emotion which 
prompted them seems remote. I know a woman who is 
always having babies ; every time she resolves that that 
one shall be the last. But, every time, she forgets her 
resolution, and it is only when her labour begins that she 
cries to midwife and husband, “ Stop, stop ; I’ve just 
remembered what it is like. I refuse to have another.” 
But it is then too late. So the human race goes on. Just 
in this way, it seems to me, the activity of our ant-hill is 
preserved by a merciful process of oblivion. “ Never 
again,” I say on the steps of the house, “ never again will 
I lunch with that woman.” “ Never again,” I say in the 
railway carriage, “ will I go and stay with those people.” 
And yet a week or two later the next invitation finds me 
eagerly accepting. “ Stop,” I cry inwardly, as I take my 
hostess’s claw-like hand. “ Stop, stop,” I cry in my tepid 
bath ; “ I have just remembered what it is like. I refuse 
to have another.” But it is too late. 

From time to time I meet people who say they are 
never bored ; they are of two kinds ; both, for the most 
part, liars. Some are equally entranced by almost all 
observable objects, a straggle of blossom on a white- 
washed wall, chimneys against the sky, two dogs on a 
muck heap, an old man with a barrow. . . . Precepts 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


II7 

of my house master, a very indolent clergyman, rise 
before me . . . “ only a dull boy is ever dull ” . . . 
“ the world is so full of a number of things.” . . , 

Others find consolation in their own minds. Whenever 
they are confronted with a dreary prospect, they tell me, 
they just slip away from the barren, objective world into 
the green pastures and ivory palaces of imagination. 
Perhaps, by a kind of arrested development, some of them 
really have retained this happy faculty of childhood, but 
as a rule I find that both these boasts boil down to a simple 
form of pessimism — the refusal to recognise that any 
particular human activity can be of greater value than 
any other one. 

Has anyone ever compiled an anthology of bored 
verse .? It woixld make a pretty Christmas book with 
Richard Sickert’s “ Ennui ” as frontispiece. Shakes- 
peare and the Bible are full of passages that might be 
quoted ; then there is Mr. Herbert’s housemaid’s song 
from Riverside Nights, and the wartime “ Nobody knows 
how bored we are, and nobody seems to care.” There 
might be an appendix of the suicides’ letters which 
appear constantly in the daily Press and are too soon 
forgotten, confessions of faith by men in early middle age 
who say : “ I am fed up and have resolved to end it all. It 
just goes on and on. Testerday the clock broke and there is 
four shillings owing for the milk. Tell Ruby the key of the 
coal-cellar is under the hat upstairs. There is not any coal. 
I have not been a bad man, hut I couldn't stand it. Give 
Aunt Loo my love ; she was always one of the best. If the 
milkman says it's more, it is only four shillings." 

I wish I could write an account worthy of inclusion in 
that anthology of the foiu- days between Harar and Aden, 
but the truth is that they have become vague and in- 
significant. The suffering was genuine enough, but like 
a mother emerging from twilight sleep, I am left with only 
the vague impression that nothing much happened. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


Il8 

Nothing much hapfened. After luncheon I paid olF my 
mules, the guide, the porter, and the old man who had, 
by sheer persistence at some indefined moment during 
the journey, become recognised as a legitimate member of 
my suite. 

Then I sat in Mr. Bollolakos’ hotel. 

Outside in the empty streets the white dust lay radiant 
and miasmic. Inside there was shade. The bar was 
locked ; the servants were all asleep. The courtyard 
was unendurable. There was only one place to sit -a 
small square parlour with cement floor and whitewashed 
walls ; in the centre a table with a plush cloth over it, 
against the walls a rickety wicker couch and two iron 
rocking-chairs. I had nothing to read except the first 
volume of a pocket edition of Pope. There are moments 
when one does not want to read Pope ; when one requires 
something bulky and informative. There was no book- 
shop or newsagent in the town. Most hotels, however 
simple, harbour some reading-matter of some sort or 
other ; brochures of advertisement, magazines or novels 
left by previous visitors, a few post-cards on a rack. . . . 
At Mr. Bollolakos’ there was nothing. 

For an hour or two I sat in the rocking-chair reading 
Pope’s juvenile poems. 

Most of the time I thought about how awful the next 
day would be. 

In my bedroom were three more volumes of Pope and 
some writing-paper. 

But I should have to cross the courtyard to get to my 
bedroom. 

Presently I got more uninterested in Pope’s juvenile 
poems and decided to cross the courtyard. The three 
volumes of Pope were somewhere at the bottom of my 
bag ; but I found the writing-paper quite easily ; also 
a minute French dictionary I had forgotten about. 

I sat for an hour or so and read the French dictionary. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


II9 

rocking the iron chair in the parlour. “ Bourrasque^ f., 
squall ; fit. Bourre, wadding ; trash. Bourreau, m., 
executioner.” . . . 

Presently I drew the table up to the wicker couch, 
rolled back the plush covering, and wrote a great many 
letters of Christmas greetings to everyone in England 
whose address I could remember. I said that it was lovely 
in Abyssinia ; that I pitied them in the fogs and monotony 
of London ; that I longed to see them again and hear 
all their scandal ; that I should be home early in the New 
Year ; that I had bought them presents of shocking 
Abyssinian painting, which I would deliver on my retiirn 
to England - every word was a lie. 

At sunset the servants woke up ; the bar was opened ; 
tables were brought out into the courtyard and laid for 
dinner ; Mr. and Mrs. Hall and the Cypriote bank- 
manager arrived. I told them that I had no books, and 
they compassionately lent me some copies of John o' 
London's Weekly, Mr. Hall was most amiable. He led 
me back to his house after dinner and showed me some 
pastel drawings he had made of Ethiopian sunsets, and a 
coloured photograph of the Prince of Wales which 
stood on a draped easel in a corner of the drawing- 
room. His invitation for the coronation had arrived by 
yesterday’s mail ; intrigue in high places had delayed 
it, he said ; there were many members of the commercial 
community who were jealous of his wife’s jewellery ; and 
he nodded significantly to the fine brooch commemorating 
the opening of Epping Forest to the public. 

That night, under my mosquito curtain, I read three 
issues of John o' London's W eekJy straight through, word 
for word, from cover to cover. 

Next morning after breakfast I read the fourth. Then 
I went up to the bank and dragged out the cashing of a 
small cheque to the utmost limits of politeness ; I sent 
a letter of introduction to the famous M. de Montfried, 



120 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


but learned that he was in Europe. It was still early in 
the day. I took a dose of sleeping-draught and went to 
bed again. 

That evening the train from Hawash arrived, bringing 
the old gentleman with whom I had travelled to Addis 
Ababa and one of the ladies who had been staying at the 
legation. He was on his way to visit the Plowmans at 
Harar ; she was going to the coast and then to Europe. 
The latest news from Addis was that everyone felt very 
tired. 

Early next morning the train left for Djibouti. There 
was none of the formality or facility that had characterised 
our arrival. Half an hour after the train was due to 
start, the lady from the legation and I were turned out of 
the carriage which she had occupied on the previous two 
days, to make room for the servants of an Abyssinian 
princess who was running down to the coast for a little 
shopping. These men were very drunk and employed 
their time in throwing beer-bottles into the desert from 
the observation platform. With every mile of the 
journey the heat and humidity became worse ; the country 
on either side of the line was unrelieved emptiness ; we 
rattled and jolted very slowly along the narrow track, in- 
creasing by another hour and a half the delay which the 
royal party had caused, while the young lady from the 
legation entertained me with censorious comments on 
the two or three English and Irish acquaintances whom 
we found in common. 

There was one moment of excitement when, towards 
sundown, we came in sight of the sea and saw that the 
GinSral F oyron was still there. She lay far out in the har- 
bour, with steam up, presumably waiting for the train. 
The line into Djibouti turns and twists among great 
boulders and dry watercourses, so that sometimes we 
lost sight of her for ten minutes at a time ; with every 
reappearance she seemed further away. Presently it 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


I2I 


became clear that she had, in fact, already sailed. 

I discussed the question with the Messageries agent, 
but he was unpenitent. I had said in my telegram that I 
was coming at five-thirty ; he had kept the ship back 
until six ; I had arrived at seven ; it was not his affair 
that the train was late ; sometimes on that line trains 
were several days late. This attitude is described, by 
those who like it, as Latin logic. It is true that Armenians 
do not see things in the same terms. 

We went to the H6tel des Arcades. Madame’s gen- 
iality seemed less comforting than it had done on my 
first arrival. We visited the British vice-consul to ask 
about ships and learned that there was one to Europe on 
Thursday and a small boat to Aden on Saturday ; the 
next Messageries ship to Zanzibar left in a fortnight ; 
he said that there had been several little earthquakes dur- 
ing the last month and showed us a large fissure in the 
wall of his office. 

I returned to the hotel in low spirits. From any point 
of view the prospect seemed unsatisfactory. The primary 
need seemed to be immediate escape from Djibouti. I 
had practically made up my mind to return to Europe 
when Madame at the hotel came to my rescue. There 
was an Italian boat leaving for Aden next day ; the 
Messageries ship from Zanzibar would pick me up there. 
We dined on the pavement and I went to bed more hope- 
fully. 

Next day was the most deadly of all. I was awakened 
at dawn with information that the Italian boat was in, 
and was leaving in an hour. I dressed in haste, fastened 
my luggage, and hurried downstairs. Madame greeted 
me in a pink peignoir. The boy had made a mistake. 
There was no boat in. 

As soon as it was open I went to the Italian shipping 
ofiice and bought my ticket. Their ship was due at any 
time, and would leave within an hour or two of her arrival. 



122 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


She was called the Somalia. They would ring me up at 
the hotel as soon as she was sighted. I sat about the 
hotel all day waiting for their message ; it was impossible 
to go far away. We visited the chief store of the town and 
bought some books ; the Abyssinian princess was there 
in a heavy green veil, bargaining over a pseudo-Chinese 
dinner-gong of atrocious construction. At dinner-time 
the shipping company rang up to say that the Somalia 
was not expected imtil next morning. Later that even- 
ing I discovered that there were three American cinema- 
men staying at the other hotel ; their company was very 
pleased with them for the pictures they had made of the 
coronation, and they were very pleased with themselves. 
We went for an exquisitely dismal jaunt together in the 
native town. 

Next day was pretty bad. I was again called at dawn 
with the news that the Somalia was in and would sail 
directly. This time the information was partially cor- 
rect. I paid, in my haste without questioning it, an hotel 
bill of staggering size, and hurried down to the sea. The 
Somalia was there all right, a clean little coastal steamer 
with accommodation for half a dozen passengers. When 
I had embarked I learned that she was not sailing until 
six that evening. I had not the spirit to return to the 
shore ; I watched the liner for Europe arrive, take up 
the lady from the legation, and steam away. All that day 
I sat on a swivel chair in the saloon, reading one of the 
books I had purchased at the store — a singularly ill- 
informed account of Abyssinia, translated from the 
English. 

Eventually, rather after six o’clock, we sailed, and 
crossed in fine weather to Aden. There were five of us 
at dinner that night — the captain, a French clerk, and an 
Italian official and his wife on their way to Mogadishu. 
We had nothing much to say to each other. The Italian 
official made some jokes about sea-sickness ; the French 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


123 

clerk gave me some figures, whose significance I have 
now forgotten, about the coffee trade at Hodeida ; the 
captain was gallant in Italian to the official’s wife. 

Next morning we arrived at Aden. That was the end 
of four exceedingly painful days. 




BRITISH EMRIRE 




BRITISH EMPIRE 


ONE 

Pure mischance had brought me to Aden, and I expected 
to dislike it. I had, in fact, a fairly clear picture in my 
mind of what it would be like ; a climate notoriously cor- 
rosive of all intellect and initiative ; a landscape barren 
of any growing or living thing ; a community, full of 
placid self-esteem, typical in part of Welwyn Garden City, 
in part of the Trocadero bar ; conversation full of dreary 
technical shop among the men, and harsh little snobberies 
among the women. I contrasted it angrily with the 
glamour and rich beauty I expected to find at Zanzibar. 
How wrong I was. 

How wrong I was, as things turned out, in all my pre- 
conceived notions about this journey. Zanzibar and the 
Congo, names pregnant with romantic suggestion, gave 
me nothing, while the places I found most full of interest 
were those I expected to detest - Kenya and Aden. 

On first acquaintance, however, there was much about 
the Settlement to justify my forebodings. It is, as every 
passenger down the Red Sea knows, an extinct volcano 
joined to the mainland by a flat and almost invisible neck 
of sand ; not a tree or flower or blade of grass grows on 
it, the only vegetation is a meagre crop of colourless 
scrub which has broken out in patches among the cin- 
ders ; there is no earth and no water, except what is 
dragged there in a ceaseless succession of camel-carts 
through the tunnelled road ; the sanitation everywhere — 
in the hotels, the club, the mess, the private bungalows - 
is still that of a temporary camp. Architecture, except 
for a series of water-tanks of unknown age, does not 



128 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


exist. A haphazard jximble of bungalows has been spilt 
over the hillside, like the litter of picnic-parties after 
Bank Holiday. Opposite the quay a waste space has 
been faintly formalised and called a garden, and behind 
it stands a mean crescent, comprising shipping offices, 
two hotels, and a few shops peddling oriental trash in 
silk, brass, and ivory. The chief hotel is as expensive as 
Torr’s at Nairobi ; the food has only two flavours — 
tomato ketchup and Worcestershire sauce ; the bathroom 
consists of a cubicle in which a tin can is suspended on a 
rope ; there is a nozzle at the bottom of the can encrusted 
with stalactites of green slime ; the bather stands on the 
slippery cement floor and pulls a string releasing a jet of 
water over his head and back ; for a heavy extra charge 
it is possible, with due notice, to have the water warmed ; 
the hall-porter has marked criminal tendencies ; the ter- 
race is infested by money-changers. The only compen- 
sating luxury, a seedy, stuffed sea-animal, unmistakably 
male, which is kept in a chest and solenmly exhibited — 
on payment — as a mermaid. You would have to search 
a long time before finding many such hotels in the whole 
of England. 

There are other superficial disadvantages about Aden, 
notably the division of the Settlement into two towns. So 
far I have been speaking of the district known as Steamer 
Point ; about three miles — an expensive taxi-drive — 
away lies Crater Town, the centre of such commerce as 
has survived. This was the original nucleus of the Set- 
tlement. It is surroimded on three sides by cliffs, and 
on the fourth by what was once a harbour, now silted up 
and for a long time closed to all traffic. The original 
Residency stands there, now a guest-house for visiting 
Arab chiefs ; there is also a large derelict barracks, par- 
tially demolished, and an Anglican church, built in Vic- 
torian Gothic, which was once the garrison chapel, and 
is still provided with its own chaplain, who reads services 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


129 

there Sunday after Sunday in absolute void. This man, 
earnest and infinitely kind, had lately arrived from Bom- 
bay ; he rescued me from the hotel, and took me to stay 
with him for a few days in his large, ramshackle house on 
the Crater beach, known to taxi-drivers as “ Padre 
sahib’s bungalow.” A few of the political officers still 
have quarters round the Crater, and there are a half- 
dozen or so British commercial agents and clerks ; the 
rest of the population are mixed Asiatics, for the most 
part Indian, Arab, or Jew, with numerous Somalis and 
one or two Persians and Parsees, inhabiting a compact 
series of streets between the water and the hills. 

Trade has been declining during recent years. Mokka 
coffee, which until lately was shipped through Aden, is 
now taken through Hodeida, while in her former im- 
portant position as clearing house for skins she has been 
largely superseded by the small, French and Italian, Red 
Sea ports who now export directly to Europe. The in- 
anition which descends on everyone in Aden is complet- 
ing the dissolution ; the business men still talk gloomily 
about the “ world slump,” but it is clear to most honest 
observers that the chances of recovery are extremely 
small. In these circumstances there would probably be 
a general movement of Indian traders to East Africa ; 
about sixty per cent, of the population, however, con- 
sists of Arabic-speaking Mohammedans, who may be 
expected to survive the exodus. The problem of British 
policy will then arise : whether Crater Town will decay 
into an Arab village, crowded in the ruins of the infantry 
lines and the garrison chapel, like the Arab villages of 
North Africa among Roman fortifications, a “ picturesque 
bit ” between an administrative post at Steamer Point 
and an air-base at Khormaksar, where liner passengers 
may take their Kodaks during an hour on shore, or 
whether it will be possible to make of it an Arab capital 
town, forming a centre for education, medical service, 

Jr 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


130 

and arbitration for the tribes between the Hadramaut and 
the Yemen. Meanwhile, the town affords a remarkable 
variety of race and costume. Arabs are represented in 
every grade of civilisation, from courteous old gentlemen 
in Government service who wear gold-rimmed spectacles, 
silk turbans, and light frock coats and carry shabby um- 
brellas with highly decorated handles, to clusters of some- 
what bemused Bedouin straight from the desert ; these 
are, in appearance, very different from the noble savages 
of romance ; their clothes consist of a strip of blanket 
round the waist, held up by a sash from which protrudes 
the hilt of a large dagger ; their hair is straight, black, 
and greasy, lying on the back of the head in a loose bun 
and bound round the forehead with a piece of rag ; they 
are of small stature and meagre muscular development ; 
their faces are hairless or covered with a slight down, 
their expressions degenerate and slightly dotty, an im- 
pression which is accentuated by their loping, irregular 
gait. 

The British political officer introduced me to a delight- 
ful Arab who acted as my interpreter and conducted me 
round Crater Town. He took me to his club, a large 
upper story, where at the busy time of the commercial 
day we found the principal Arab citizens reclining on 
divans and chewing khat ; later he took me to an Arab 
caf6 where the lower class congregate ; here, too, was 
the same decent respect for leisure ; the patrons reclined 
round the walls in a gentle stupor, chewing khat. “ These 
simple people, too, have their little pleasures,” my com- 
panion remarked. 

Later I received an invitation to tea from the president 
and committee of the club. This time the bundles of 
khat had been removed, and plates of sweet biscuits and 
dates and tins of cigarettes had taken their place. My 
friend and interpreter was there, but the president — 
whose father was chief secretary to the Sultan of Lahej — 



REMOTE PEOPLE I3I 

spoke enough English to make conversation very difE- 
cult. 

I was introduced to about a dozen Arabs. We sat 
down in two rows opposite each other. A servant brought 
in a tray of tea and bottled lemonade. We talked about 
the distressing conditions of local trade. 

Everything would be all right and everyone would be 
happy, said the Arabs, if only the bank would give longer 
and larger overdrafts. I remarked that in England we 
are embarrassed in exactly that way too. They laughed 
politely. Europeans, they said, could always get all the 
money they wanted. Even Indians, a race renowned for 
dishonour and instability, could get larger advances than 
the Arabs ; how was one to live unless one borrowed the 
money ? They had heard it said I was writing a book. 
Would I, in my book, persuade the bank to lend them 
more money ? I promised that I would try. (Will any 
official of the Bank of India who reads this book please 
let the Aden Arabs have more money ?) 

We talked about London. They told me that the 
Sultan of Lahej had been there and had met the King- 
Emperor. We talked about the King-Emperor and 
pretty Princess Elizabeth. I confess I am pretty bad at 
carrying on this kind of conversation. There were several 
long pauses. One of them was broken by the president 
suddenly saying, “We all take great sorrow at the loss 
of your R loi.” 

I agreed that it had been a terrible disaster, and re- 
marked that I knew one of the victims fairly well. 

“ We think it very sad,” said the president, “ that so 
many of your well-educated men should have been 
killed.” 

That seemed to me a new aspect of the tragedy. 

Conversation again languished, until one of the com- 
pany, who had hitherto taken no part in the conversation, 
rose to his feet and, tucking up his shirt, exhibited the 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


132 

scars in Ms side caused by a recent operation for gall 
stone. This man was local correspondent to a London 
newspaper. He had lately, he told me, sent the foreign- 
news editor a complete genealogy of the Imam of Sana, 
compiled by himself with great labour. Did I know 
whether it had yet been printed, and, if not, could I put 
in a word for him in Fleet Street when I returned ? 

When the time came to leave, the president gave me 
an inscribed photograph of himself in Court uniform. 

One evening there was a fair in Crater. There were 
stalls selling sweets and sherbet under naphtha flares, 
and tables with simple gambling-games. One of these 
was the simplest gambling-game I ever saw. The banker 
dealt five cards face downwards and the players placed a 
stake of an anna on one or other of them. When each 
card had found a backer — two players were not allowed 
to bet on the same card — they were turned up. The 
winning card was then paid even money and the banker 
pocketed three annas a time. There was also a game 
played for tins of pineapple. Groups of men danced in 
circles between the stalls. The officer formerly in com- 
mand of the Aden Levy told me the interesting fact that, 
when Arab troops are halted for refreshment during a 
route march, instead of lying down like Europeans, they 
make up litde parties and dance. But I could not see 
anything specifically invigorating about the mild shuffling 
and clapping which they performed at this fair. 

One unifying influence among the diverse cultures of 
the Crater was the Aden troop of Boy Scouts. It is true 
that Arabs cannot be induced to serve in the same patrol 
with Jews, but it is a remarkable enough spectacle to see 
the two races sitting amicably on opposite sides of a 
camp-fire, singing their songs in turn and occasionally 
joining each other in chorus. The scoutmaster, an Eng- 
lish commercial agent, invited me to attend one of these 
meetings. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


133 

The quarters were a disused sergeants’ mess and the 
former barrack square. My friend was chiefly responsible 
for the Arab patrol, the Jews having an independent or- 
ganisation. As I approached, rather late, I saw the latter 
drilling in their own quarter of the parade ground — a 
squad of lengthy, sallow boys in very smart uniforms 
furnished with every possible accessory by the benefac- 
tion of a still-wealthy local merchant. The Arabs — with 
the exception of one resplendent little Persian, for 
“ Arab ” in this connection was held to include all Gen- 
tiles, Somali, Arab, and Mohammedan Indians — were 
less luxuriously equipped. There were also far fewer of 
them. This was explained by the fact that two of the 
second-class scouts were just at that time celebrating 
their marriages. 

Tests were in progress for the tenderfoot and other 
badges. The acquiring of various badges is a matter of 
primary concern in the Aden troop. Some of the chil- 
dren had their arms well covered with decorations. “ We 
generally let them pass after the third or fourth attempt,” 
the scoutmaster explained. “ It discourages them to fail 
too often.” 

Two or three figures crouching against comers of 
masonry were engaged on lighting fires. This had to 
be done with two matches ; they had been provided by 
their mothers with horrible messes of food in tin cans, 
which they intended to warm up and consume. I believe 
this qualified them for a cookery medal. “ Of course, it 
isn’t like dealing with English boys,” said the scout- 
master ; “if one isn’t pretty sharp they put paraifin on 
the sticks.” 

The scoutmaster kept the matchbox, which was very 
quickly depleted. Breathless little creatures kept rim- 
ning up. “ Please, sahib, no burn. Please more 
matches.” Then we would walk across, scatter the as- 
sembled sticks and tinder, and watch them built up again. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


134 

It was not a long process. A match was then struck, 
plunged into the centre of the little pile, and instantly- 
extinguished. The second match followed. “ Please, 
sahib, no burn.” Then the business began again. Oc- 
casionally crows of delight would arise and we were 
hastily s-ummoned to see a real conflagration. Now and 
then a sheet of flame would go up very suddenly, accom- 
panied by a column of black smoke. “ Oil,” said the 
scoutmaster, and that fire would be disqualified. 

Later a Somali boy presented himself for examination 
in scout law. He knew it all by heart perfectly. “ First 
scoot law a scoot’s honour iss to be trust second scoot 
law . . .” et cetera, in one breath. 

“ Very good, Abdul. Now tell me what does ‘ thrifty ’ 
mean ? ” 

“ Trifty min ? ” 

“ Yes, what do you mean, when you say a scout is 
thrifty ? ” 

“ I min a scoot hass no money.” 

“ Well, that’s more or less right. What does ‘ clean ’ 
mean ? ” 

“ Clin min ? ” 

“ You said just now a scout is clean in thought, word, 
and deed.” 

“ Yis, scoot iss din.” 

“ Well, what do you mean by that ? ” 

“ I min tought, worden deed.” 

“ Yes, well, what do you mean by clean ? ” 

Both parties in this dialogue seemed to be losing con- 
fidence in the other’s intelligence. 

“ I min the tenth scoot law.” 

A pause during which the boy stood first on one black 
leg, then on the other, gazing patiently into the sun. 

“ All right, Abdul. That’ll do.” 

“ Pass, sahib ? ” 

“ Yes, yes.” 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


135 

An enormous smile broke across his small face, and 
away he went capering across the parade ground, kicking 
up dust over the fire-makers and laughing with pleasure. 

“ Of course, it isn’t quite like dealing with English 
boys,” said the scoutmaster again. 

Presently the two bridegrooms arrived, identically 
dressed in gala clothes, brilliantly striped silk skirts, 
sashes, and turbans, little coats and ornamental daggers. 
They were cousins, about fourteen years of age. They 
had been married a week ago. To-night they were going 
to see their brides for the first time. They were highly 
excited by their clothes, and anxious to show them to their 
fellow scouts and scoutmaster. 

Meanwhile the Jews had made a huge bonfire on the 
beach. Both patrols assembled round it and a short con- 
cert was held. They sang local songs in their own lan- 
guages. I asked what they meant, but the scoutmaster 
was not sure. From what I know of most Arabic songs, 
I expect that they were wholly incompatible with the tenth 
scout law. 

When, on leaving, I thanked the scoutmaster for his 
entertainment he said, “ Did you really find it interest- 
ing .? ” 

“ Yes, indeed I did.” 

“ Well, then, perhaps you won’t think it such cheek 
what I am going to ask. We thought of starting a patrol 
magazine. I wondered if you would write us a short 
story for it. Just some little thing, you know, to do with 
scouting in diflFerent parts of the world.” 

I thought it simplest to agree, but I do not feel very 
guilty at not having kept that promise. After all, I was 
on a holiday. 

I think that perhaps it was the predominance of 
bachelors at Steamer Point that made the English com- 
munity there so tmusually agreeable. On paper its 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


136 

composition was exactly what one would have assumed - 
Resident and A.D.C., some soldiers, a sailor, numerous 
airmen, India Office and colonial officials ; just such a 
list as has made English colonial stations odious through- 
out the novel-reading world. It just happened that at 
Aden they were all peculiarly pleasant individuals. In 
fact, I think there is never anything essentially ludicrous 
about English officials abroad ; it is the wives they 
marry that are so difficult ; at Aden the centres of social 
intercourse were in the club and the messes, not at bun- 
galow “ sundowner ’’-parties. At Zanzibar the club was 
practically empty from eight o’clock onwards — everyone 
was at home with his wife ; at Aden the bar and the card- 
room were full till midnight ; there seemed to be no 
children in the town - at any rate, none were ever men- 
tioned. 

There was plenty of entertainment going on. During 
my brief visit — ten days only in Aden itself — there was 
a dance at the club, a ball at the Residency, and a very 
convivial party given by the Sappers. There was also a 
cinematograph performance. 

This is a singular feature of Aden life which occurs 
every Thursday on the roof of the Seamen’s Institute. I 
went with the flight-commander, who had been in charge 
of the Air Mission at Addis. We dined first at the club 
with two of his officers. There were parties at other 
tables, also bound for the cinema ; there were also 
dinner-parties at many of the bungalows. People enter- 
tain for the cinema on Thursday nights as they do for 
dances in London. It is not a hundred yards from the 
club to the Seamen’s Institute, but we drove there in two 
cars. Other parties were arriving ; a few Somalis 
loitered round the entrance, watching the procession ; 
the Residency car, flag flying on the bonnet, was already 
there. Upstairs the roof was covered with deep wicker 
chairs. The front row was reserved for the Resident’s 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


137 

party. The other seats were already two-thirds full. 
Everyone, of course, was in evening dress. It was a warm 
night, brilliant with stars (though here I may interpolate 
that there is a lot of nonsense talked about tropical con- 
stellations. South of Cairo I never saw a sky that nearly 
equalled the splendour of a northern clear night. As for 
the Southern Cross, which one so often sees described as 
“ a blazing jewel,” it is as dim and formless as a handful 
of glow-worms). 

The first film was a Path^ Gazette, showing the King 
leaving London for Bognor Regis twenty months previ- 
ously, and an undated Grand National, presumably of 
about the same antiquity. A fine old slapstick comedy 
followed. I tmrned to remark to my host how much 
superior the early comedies were to those of the present 
day, but discovered, to my surprise, that he was fast 
asleep. I turned to my neighbour on the other side ; his 
head had fallen back, his eyes were shut, his mouth wide 
open. His cigarette was gradually burning toward his 
fingers. I took it from him and put it out. The move- 
ment disturbed him. He shut his mouth and, without 
opening his eyes, said, “ Jolly good, isn’t it ? ” Then 
his mouth fell open again. I looked about me and saw 
in the half-light reflected from the screen that with very 
few exceptions the entire audience were asleep. An 
abysmal British drama followed, called The W oman Who 
Did. It was about a feminist and an illegitimate child 
and a rich grandfather. The roof remained wrapped in 
sleep. It is one of the odd characteristics of the Aden 
climate that it is practically impossible to remain both 
immobile and conscious. 

Later, “ God Save the King ” was played on the piano. 
Everyone sprang alertly to attention and, completely 
vivacious once more, adjourned to the club for beer, 
oysters, and bridge. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


138 

Everyone was delightfully hospitable, and between 
meals I made a serious attempt to grasp some of the in- 
tricacies of Arabian politics ; an attempt which more 
often than not took the form of my spreading a table 
with maps, reports, and notebooks, and then falling into 
a gentle and prolonged stupor. I spent only one really 
strenuous afternoon. That was in taking “ a little walk 
over the rocks,” with Mr. Leblanc and his “ young men.” 

Nothing in my earlier acquaintance with Mr. Leblanc 
had given me any reason to suspect what I was letting 
myself in for when I accepted his invitation to join him in 
his little walk over the rocks. He was a general merchant, 
commercial agent, and shipowner of importance, the only 
European magnate in the Settlement ; they said of him 
that he thrived on risk and had made and lost more than 
one considerable fortune in his time. I met him dining 
at the Residency, on my first evening in Aden. He talked 
of Abyssinia, where he had heavy business undertakings, 
with keen sarcasm ; he expressed his contempt for the 
poetry of Rimbaud ; he told me a great deal of very recent 
gossip about people in Europe ; he produced, from the 
pocket of his white waistcoat, a Press-cutting about Miss 
Rebecca West’s marriage ; after dinner he played some 
very new gramophone records he had brought with him. 
To me, rubbed raw by those deadly four days at Dirre- 
Dowa and Djibouti, it was all particularly emollient and 
healing. 

A day or two afterwards he invited me to dinner at his 
house in Crater. A smart car with a liveried Indian 
chauffeur came to fetch me. We dined on the roof ; a 
delicious dinner ; iced vin-rose — “ It is not a luxurious 
wine, but I am fond of it ; it grows on a little estate of my 
own in the South of France ” — and the finest Yemen 
coffee. With his very thin gold watch in his hand, 
Mr. Leblanc predicted the rising of a star — I forget 
which. Punctual to the second, it appeared, green and 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


139 

malevolent, on the rim of the hills ; cigars glowing •under 
the night sky ; from below the faint murmur of the 
native streets ; all infinitely smooth and cmlised. 

At this party a new facet was revealed to me in the 
character of my host. Mr. Leblanc the man of fashion I 
had seen. Here was Mr. Leblanc the patriarch. The 
house where we sat was the top story of his place of busi- 
ness ; at the table sat his daughter, his secretary, and 
three of his “ young men.” The young men were his 
clerks, learning the business. One was French, the other 
two English lately down from Cambridge. They worked 
immensely hard — often, he told me, ten hours a day ; 
often half way through the night, when a ship was in. 
They were not encouraged to go to the club or to mix in 
the society of Steamer Point. They lived together in a 
house near Mr. Leblanc’s ; they lived very well and were 
on terms of patriarchal intimacy with Mr. Leblanc’s 
family. “ If they go up to Steamer Point, they start 
drinking, playing cards, and spending money. Here, 
they work so hard that they cannot help sa-ving. When 
they want a holiday they go roimd the coast visiting my 
agencies. They learn to know the country and the 
people ; they travel in my ships ; at the end of a year or 
two they have saved nearly all their money and they have 
learned business. For exercise we take little walks over 
the rocks together. Tennis and polo would cost them 
money. To walk in the hills is free. They get up out of 
the town into the cool air, the •views are magnificent, the 
gentle exercise keeps them in condition for their work. 
It takes their minds, for a little, off business. You must 
come with us one day on one of our walks.” 

I agreed readily. After the torpid atmosphere of Aden 
it would be delightful to take some gentle exercise in the 
cool air. And so it was arranged for the following Satur- 
day afternoon. When I left, Mr. Leblanc lent me a copy 
of Gide’s Voyage au Congo. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


140 

Mr. Leblanc the man of fashion I knew, and Mr. 
Leblanc the patriarch. On Saturday I met Mr. Leblanc 
the man of action, Mr. Leblanc the gambler. 

I was to lunch first with the young men at their 
“ mess ” — as all communal mSnages appear to be called 
in the East. I presented myself dressed as I had seen 
photographs of “ hikers,” with shorts, open shirt, stout 
shoes, woollen stockings, and large walking-stick. We 
had an excellent luncheon, during which they told me 
how, one evening, they had climbed into the Parsees’ 
death-house, and what a row there had been about it. 
Presently one of them said, “ Well, it’s about time to 
change. We promised to be rormd at the old man’s at 
half-past.” 

“ Change ? ” 

“ Well, it’s just as you like, but I think you’ll find those 
things rather W. We usually wear nothing except shoes 
and shorts. We leave our shirts in the cars. They meet 
us on the bathing-beach. And if you’ve got any rubber- 
soled shoes I should wear them. Some of the rocks are 
pretty slippery.” Luckily I happened to have some 
rubber shoes. I went back to the chaplain’s house, where 
I was then living, and changed. I was beginning to be 
slightly apprehensive. 

Mr. Leblanc looked magnificent. He wore newly 
creased white shorts, a silk openwork vest, and white 
espadrilles laced like a ballet dancer’s roxmd his ankles. 
He held a tuberose, sniffing it delicately. “ They call it 
an Aden lily sometimes,” he said. “ I can’t think why.” 

There was with him another stranger, a guest of Mr. 
Leblanc’s on a commercial embassy from an oil firm. “ I 
say, you know,” he confided in me, “ I think this is 
going to be a bit stiff. I’m scarcely in training for any- 
thing very energetic.” 

We set out in the cars and drove to a dead end at the 
face of the cliffs near the ancient reservoirs. I thought we 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


I4I 

must have taken the wrong road, but everyone got out 
and began stripping off his shirt. The Leblanc party 
went hatless ; the stranger and I retained our topees. 

“ I should leave those sticks in the car,” said Mr. 
Leblanc. 

“ But shan’t we find them useful ? ” (I still nursed 
memories of happy scrambles in the Wicklow hills.) 

“You will find them a great nuisance,” said Mr. 
Leblanc.” 

We did as we were advised. 

Then the little walk started. Mr. Leblanc led the way 
with light, springing steps. He went right up to the 
face of the cliff, gaily but purposefully as Moses may have 
approached the rocks from which he was about to strike 
water. There was a little crack running like fork-light- 
ning down the blank wall of stone. Mr. Leblanc stood 
below it, gave one little skip, and suddenly, with great 
rapidity and no apparent effort, proceeded to ascend the 
precipice. He did not climb ; he rose. It was as if 
someone were hoisting him up from above and he had 
merely to prevent himself from swinging out of the per- 
pendicular, by keeping contact with rocks in a few light 
touches of foot and hand. 

In just the same way, one after another, the Leblanc 
party were whisked away out of sight. The stranger and 
I looked at each other. “ Are you all right ? ” came re- 
verberating down from very far ahead. We began to 
climb. We climbed for about half an hour up the cleft 
in the rock. Not once during that time did we find a 
place where it was possible to rest or even to stand still 
in any normal attitude. We just went on from foothold 
to foothold ; our topees made it impossible to see more 
than a foot or two above our heads. Suddenly we came 
on the Leblanc party sitting on a ledge. 

“ You look hot,” said Mr. Leblanc. “ I see you are 
not in trainingT You will find this most beneficial.” 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


142 

As soon as we stopped climbing, our knees began to 
tremble. We sat down. When the time came to start 
again, it was quite difficult to stand up. Our knees 
seemed to be behaving as they sometimes do in dreams, 
when they suddenly refuse support in moments of pur- 
suit by bearded women broadcasters. 

“ We thought it best to wait for you,” continued Mr. 
Leblanc, “ because there is rather a tricky bit here. It is 
easy enough when you know the way, but you need some- 
one to show you. I discovered it myself. I often go 
out alone in the evenings finding tricky bits. Once I 
was out all night, quite stuck. I thought I should be 
able to find a way when the moon rose. Then I remem- 
bered there was no moon that night. It was a very 
cramped position.” 

The tricky bit was a huge overhanging rock with a 
crumbling flaky surface. 

“ It is really quite simple. Watch me and then follow. 
You put your right foot here . . .” — a perfectly blank, 
highly polished surface of stone — “ . . . then rather 
slowly you reach up with your left hand until you find a 
hold. You have to stretch rather far . . . so. Then you 
cross your right leg under your left — this is the difficult 
part — and feel for a footing on the other side. . . . 
With your right hand you just steady yourself . . . so.” 
Mr. Leblanc hung over the abyss partly out of sight. 
His whole body seemed prehensile and tenacious. He 
stood there like a fly on the ceiling. “ That is the posi- 
tion. It is best to trust more to the feet than the hands — 
push up rather than pull down . . . you see the stone 
here is not always secure.” By way of demonstration he 
splintered off a handful of apparently solid rock from 
above his head and sent it tinkling down to the road 
below. “ Now all you do is to shift the weight from your 
left foot to your right, and swing yourself round . . . 
so.” And Mr. Leblanc disappeared from view. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


143 

Every detail of that expedition is kept fresh in my 
mind by recurrent nightmares. Eventually after about 
an hour’s fearful climb we reached the rim of the crater. 
The next stage was a tramp across the great pit of loose 
cinders ; then the ascent of the other rim, to the highest 
point of the peninsula. Here we paused to admire the 
view, which was indeed most remarkable ; then we 
climbed down to the sea. Variety was added to this last 
phase by the fact that we were now in the full glare of the 
sun, which had been beating on the cliffs from noon until 
they were blistering hot. 

“ It will hurt the hands if you hang on too long,” said 
Mr. Leblanc. “ One must jump on the foot from rock 
to rock like the little goats.” 

At last, after about three hours of it, we reached the 
beach. Cars and servants were waiting. Tea was al- 
ready spread ; bathing-dresses and towels laid out. 

“ We always bathe here, not at the club,” said Mr. 
Leblanc. “ They have a screen there to keep out the 
sharks — while in this bay, only last month, two boys were 
devoured.” 

We swam out into the warm sea. An Arab fisherman, 
hopeful of a tip, ran to the edge of the sea and began shout- 
ing to us that it was dangerous. Mr. Leblanc laughed 
happily and, with easy, powerful strokes, made for the 
deep waters. We returned to shore and dressed. My 
shoes were completely worn through, and there was a 
large tear in my shorts where I had slipped among the 
cinders and slid some yards. Mr. Leblanc had laid 
out for him in the car a clean white suit, a shirt of 
green crSpe-de-Chine, a bow tie, silk socks, buckskin 
shoes, ivory hairbrushes, scent spray, and hair lotion. 
We ate banana sandwiches and drank very rich China 
tea. 

For a little additional thrill on the way back, Mr. 
Leblanc took the wheel of his car. I am not sure 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


144 

that that was not the most hair-raising experience of 
all. 

Next day — Sunday, December 14th — intolerably stiff 
in every muscle, bruised, scratched, blistered by the sun, 
I set out for Lahej, where the Resident had arranged for 
me to spend two nights as the Sultan’s guest to see the 
assembly of the tributary chiefs on Tuesday. This was 
to be the second of these assemblies. The first, held in 
the spring of the preceding year, had been an experiment 
in what is likely to prove an extremely important develop- 
ment in the Protectorate policy. 

Until I came to Aden I did not realise that there was 
any particular policy there or any problems requiring 
solution. I saw a small red semi-circle on the map and 
supposed vaguely that it was a railed off, benevolently 
administered territory, sequestered from the troubles of 
the rest of Arabia, and overrun by mission schools, dis- 
trict officers, clinics, prevention-of-cruelty-to-animals in- 
spectors, German and Japanese commercial travellers, 
Fabian women collecting statistics and all the other con- 
comitants of British imperialism. None of these things 
can be found anywhere in South Arabia. “ Protectorate ” 
is one of the vaguest terms in the whole political jargon. 
In Zanzibar it means nothing less than a complete system 
of direct government ; in Aden, until the last two or 
three years, it has merely meant the doling out or with- 
holding of small stipends to the virtually independent 
tribal chiefs, who are bound to the Aden Government by 
thirty separate treaties. There has been no “ protection ” 
in the ordinary sense of the word. At the beginning of 
the last war the entire territory, up to Khormaksar, was 
overrun by the Turks and remained in their hands until 
the Armistice. Even now there are seventy “ pro- 
tected ” subjects living as hostages in the hands of the 
Imam of Sana and large tracts of “ protected ” territory 
paying him tribute. The boxmdaries shown in the atlas 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


145 

are practically meaningless ; they are nowhere demar- 
cated, but depend on traditional tribal holdings. The 
surroxmding country is on all sides little known and inhos- 
pitable. The western border was defined by the 1 903—4 
boundary commission at the time when the Yemen was 
in Turkish hands. The Imam has never recognised that 
agreement and, in fact, openly and constantly violates it ; 
to the north is the Rhub-al-Khali, where boundaries do 
not comit. (It is interesting, at any rate for me, to think 
that, while Flight-Commander Vachell and I were look- 
ing at his large-scale service maps and at that great blank 
space in them, and he was describing some flights he 
had made skirting the edge and saying that of all un- 
charted parts of the world that was likely to keep its in- 
tegrity the longest, during those very days Mr. Bertram 
Thomas was setting out on his crossing.) On the north- 
east lies the Hadramaut, still, except for Mukulla, prac- 
tically terra incognita. A recent explorer — Boscawen — 
reports a series of castles supporting a life of high luxury, 
inhabited by Arabs who have made fortunes in Java and 
the Malay States. 

The Protectorate is the name for the thirty or so tribes 
living between these areas. They are entirely separate 
from Aden Settlement ; their affairs are dealt with by the 
Colonial Office, while Aden itself is under the Bombay 
Presidency. The Resident at Aden is in charge of both. 
In the early days of the settlement the policy was initiated 
of paying money bribes to the immediate neighbours in 
return for a certain standard of good behaviour. This 
meant in all cases that they were to refrain from attacking 
the European and Indian settlers, and in five cases that 
they were to afford safe communication for the caravans 
coming down to the coast. It was a makeshift system 
from the start, but the endemic lethargy of the place pro- 
longed it for nearly a century. Occasionally a more than 
usually vigorous administrator would attempt to put 

Kp 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


146 

down internal hostilities by making the stipends condi- 
tional upon pacific behaviour, but, for the most part, the 
Residents seemed to have regarded residence as their 
primary duty. Until the war, the pressure of Turkish 
expansion had been the chief consideration. When this 
was removed there seemed only two logical policies, 
either to abandon the protectorate altogether, allow the 
Imam to overrun it, and make a single agreement with 
him for the safety of the settlement, or to institute direct 
administration. There were serious objections to both 
these courses ; the first would be a breach of our treaty 
obligations - the Shafei sect of the protected tribes are 
irreconcilably hostile to the Zeidi highlanders — and the 
second certainly expensive and possibly unsuccessful. 

A third course was proposed by Sir Stewart Symes,> 
and adopted as the policy of the British Government. 
This is to develop the protectorate upon native and fed- 
eral lines, resisting the consistent disintegrating tendency 
of Arab society by giving support always to paramount 
chiefs, and to unite the tribes into a single responsible 
body able to co-operate in frontier defence, and bound to 
the Aden Government by a single collective guarantee in- 
stead of the present hotch-potch of treaties. Under this 
r6gime Aden Settlement would become the cultural 
capital of the new State, and educational and medical ser- 
vice would eventually take the place of the old system of 
cash payments. 

An essential part of this scheme is the institution of a 
jurga, or tribal council, on the lines at present in operation 
in Baluchistan, which will act as a court of arbitration in 
internal disputes and as a single articulate body with 
whom the Aden Government can treat. The Sultan of 
Lahej is, by wealth and position, the natural president, 
primus inter par es^ of this council. He is the only chief 

‘ A few weeks after my visit Sir Stewart Symes left Aden to take up the 
Governorship of Tanganyika. 



REMOTE PEOPLE I47 

with prestige enough to assemble the others and with a 
palace to accommodate them. 

The first council was held in the spring of 1929 ; 
most of the chiefs attended, bewildered and somewhat 
suspicious of the whole business. It was the first time in 
their lives, possibly the first time in the history of the 
tribes, that so many of them had sat down peaceably to- 
gether. The new policy was explained to them in simple 
terms, and a treaty was drawn up and accepted, binding 
the signatories in general terms to co-operation and 
amicable relations. Conversations were held between the 
Resident, the Sultan of Lahej, and the various chiefs. 
They showed excusable anxiety about their pensions, but 
on the whole seemed interested. The success or failure 
of the assembly on Tuesday was regarded as an important 
indication of the practicability of making it a yearly func- 
tion. The former signatory chiefs, and some others, had 
been invited to attend. The meeting was to be at the 
palace. A temporary British camp was being pitched 
two miles out of the town, where the Resident would be 
able to hold informal discussions with individual chiefs 
during the week. 

This, very briefly, is the political situation in the pro- 
tectorate and the meaning of the assembly of chiefs, and 
that was why, stiff and sore, I was being biunped along 
the track from the peninsula to Lahej. 

There was once a railway from Aden to Lahej, but it 
fell out of use and had lately been demolished ; a quay 
at the docks was still littered with rusty rolling-stock and 
lengths of rail. A young Scotsman was, in fact, at that 
moment staying at the hotel whose business was to see to 
their disposal. I had some talk with him. His firm had 
bought the whole concern, without seeing it, at a bargain 
price and then sent him out to do the best he could with 
it. He was doing quite well, he said, patiently selling it 
bit by bit in improbable quarters of the world. No move 



had as yet been made to replace it ; we — Colonel Lake, 
the chief political officer, the driver, and I -bounced 
along in the sand, in a six-wheel army lorry, beside the 
remains of the track, which still clearly showed the cor- 
rugations where the sleepers had lain. It took us about 
two hours to reach the camp. The Aden Levy had ar- 
rived the day before. Some neat little kitchens of grass 
and wattles had been erected behind a sand dune, out of 
sight. Great trouble had been taken with the alinement 
of the camp ; an avenue of signalling-flags led up to its 
centre ; the sites for the tents were symmetrically dis- 
posed round it. The tents themselves were causing some 
trouble, particularly a great cubic pavilion that was to be 
used for the Resident’s durbar ; there was a high, hot 
wind blowing ; grass and reeds had been scattered about 
to lay the driving sand, but with little success. Clouds 
of grit eddied everywhere. 

Just as we arrived they got the big tent fixed at last ; 
they stood back to admire it. The subaltern in charge 
came to greet us. “ Thank heavens we’ve got that done. 
We’ve been at it since five this morning. Now we can 
have a drink.” 

While he was still speaking, the tent bellied, sagged, 
and fell ; the patient little Arabs began their work again, 
laying foundations of stones, three feet deep, to hold the 
pegs in the loose sand. 

We lunched in the mess-tent, dozed, and then, 
mounted on camels. Colonel Lake and I rode the remain- 
ing two miles into the town. I had already seen it from 
the air during a flight, frustrated by low clouds, which 
Vachell and I had attempted to make to Dhala. It was 
a typical Arab town of dun-coloured, flat-roofed houses 
and intricate alleyways. The palace was wholly European 
in conception, smaller than the Gebbi at Addis, but much 
better planned and better kept ; there were pretty formal 
gardens in front of it, and all round the town lay bright 





Lahej from the Air 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


149 

green meadows and groves of coconut and date-palm. 
There was one large, lately redecorated mosque and the 
usual small shrines and tombs. 

A power station has lately been built and most of the 
principal houses installed with electricity. This is natur- 
ally a matter for great pride and, to draw his visitors* at- 
tention more closely to the innovation, the sultan has 
conceived the rather unhappy plan of building the new 
guest-house immediately over the electric plant. For- 
tunately this was not yet finished, so that we were directed 
to the old guest-house, a pleasant, rather dilapidated villa 
of pseudo-European style, standing at the extremity of 
the town on the edge of the fields. Here Colonel Lake 
left me in the charge of the Arab butler, having elicited 
the fact that there were two other occupants of the house 

— German engineers in the sultan’s employ. Except for 
these there were no Europeans of any kind in the town. 

The furniture was very simple ; in my room, a wash- 
handstand with odd china, an iron bedstead with a 
mosquito-curtain and one collapsible, Hyde Park chair ; 
round the walls were traces of a painted dado, represent- 
ing looped and fringed curtains and gilt tassels ; in the 
living-rooms, two tables, more Hyde Park chairs, and 
some iron rocking-chairs, which seem to play an essen- 
tial part of hospitality in the East, as gilt chairs once did 
in London. There were also some personal possessions 
of the German engineers — two or three comic magazines 
of a year or two back, a fiddle, some tins of fruit and bis- 
cuits, Alpine photographs, a gramophone, an album 
containing photographs of male cinema-stars. 

After about an hour they themselves arrived. They 
were very young men — both twenty-two, I learned later 

— and they had come in overalls straight from work ; they 
spoke English, one rather better than the other, but both 
very fluently, loudly, and xmintelligibly. Their first 
concern was to apologise for their appearance. They 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


150 

would be ashamed to speak to me, they said, until they 
had washed and changed. They had fitted up a kind of 
shower-bath behind a curtain of sacking at the top of the 
stairs. Here they hid themselves and spluttered happily 
for some minutes, emerging later, naked, dripping, and 
better composed. They dried themselves, combed their 
hair, put on smart tropical suits, and called for dinner. 
They produced some bottled amstel from beneath their 
beds and put it under the shower-bath to cool, and opened 
a tin of greengages in my honour. They were a most 
friendly, generous pair. 

Dinner consisted of a highly pungent meat stew and 
salad. The cooking was not good, they explained, and 
they suspected the butler of cheating the sultan and them- 
selves by confiscating their rations and substituting in- 
ferior purchases of his own ; however, it did not do to 
complain ; they were well paid and could afford to sup- 
plement their meals with biscuits and beer and tinned 
fruit ; they would probably be the ultimate losers in any 
conflict with the butler. I should find, they said, that 
their food would make me rather ill. At first they 
suffered continuously from dysentery and nettle-rash ; 
also the mosquito-curtains were too short and were full 
of holes. I should probably get a touch of malaria. The 
salad, they said, helping themselves profusely, was full of 
typhus. 

I retail this information simply and concisely as though 
it had come to me in so many words. As a matter of fact, 
it took the whole of dinner in telling, and half an hour or 
so afterwards. Both spoke simultaneously all the time, 
and, when the issues became confused, louder and louder. 
“ We know English so well because we always speak it 
with our Dutch friends at Aden,” they explained (but 
again at far greater length and with many misunder- 
standings and cross purposes). “ It was largely from 
them that we learned it,” 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


151 

There were interruptions. Fairly frequently the light 
turned orange, flickered, and went out, on one occasion, 
for so long that we all set out to the power station to see 
what had happened. Just as we left the house, however, 
we saw the lights go up again, and returned to our con- 
versation. “ Engineer,” I realised, was a title covering 
a variety of functions. Three times messages came from 
the palace ; once, to say that the water-closet had broken 
and that they were to come and mend it first thing in the 
morning ; again, to say that one of Sultan Achmed's 
(the Sultan of Lahej’s brother) new tractors was stuck in 
a watercourse ; a third, to remark that the lights kept 
going out. All these things were duly noted down for 
their attention. 

Next morning I had an audience with the sultan. His 
Highness was an impassive, middle-aged man, wearing 
semi-European clothes — turban, black frock coat, white 
linen trousers. As head of the Fadl family, the here- 
ditary rulers of the Abdali tribe and, for a brief period, 
the former possessors of Aden, he holds by far the most 
influential position in the protectorate. He is in close 
personal relationship with the Settlement Government 
and substantially supported by them. 

At the time of our first occupation of Aden, the Fadl 
family had for about eighty years been independent of 
the Imam ; their position, however, was precarious, and 
it was directly from them* that the Settlement Giovern- 
ment inherited the futile system of purchasing the good- 
will of the neighbouring tribes with regular monetary 
bribes. Their connection with the British Government 
has tended greatly to increase the family’s wealth and 
stability and consequent prestige. They are, in fact, the 
only really secure house in Southern Arabia, and would 

‘Treaty between the Company and the Sultan of Lahej 1839 by 
which the Company made themselves responsible for stipends formerly 
paid by the Sultan to the Fadhli, Yafai, Haushabi and Amiri. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


152 

have most to lose, of any of the protectorate tribes, from 
Zeidi overlordship. There is no resident advisor at 
Lahej and no attempt at domestic control. Within his 
own territory the sultan’s power is only limited by the 
traditional law of his own people. 

We drank delicious coffee on the balcony overlooking 
the palace gardens and, with the aid of an interpreter, 
asked politely after each other’s health and the health of 
our relatives. I commented on the striking modernity of 
his city - the electric light, the water-supply, the motor- 
buses ; he remarked how much more modern these 
things were in London. He said that the Resident told 
him I wrote books ; that he had not himself written a 
book, but that his brother had written a very good one, 
which I must see before I left Lahej, Conversations 
through an interpreter always seem to me so artificial 
that it is hardly worth while thinking for anything to say. 
He asked after my comfort at the guest-house ; I replied 
that it was luxury itself ; he said not so luxurious as 
London. I was at the moment, just as the Germans had 
predicted, tortured with nettle-rash. I said that the 
tranquillity was greater than in London. He said that 
soon he would have more motor-buses. Then we took 
leave of each other and I was conducted to Sultan Achmed 
Fadl. 

His Highness’s brother lived in a small, balconied 
house on the further side of the main square. He was 
already receiving company. A British political officer 
was there, the subaltern who had supervised the collapse 
of the Resident’s durbar tent, and the Haushabi sultan ; 
a secretary was in attendance and numerous servants and 
guards sat about on the narrow staircase. 

The Haushabi sultan was an important young man 
finely dressed and very far from sane. He sat in a corner 
giggling with embarrassment, and furtively popping 
little twigs of khat into his mouth. It was not often that 



REMOTE PEOPLE 153 

his womenfolk allowed him to leave his own district. 
Sultan Achmed was a good-looking man of about forty, 
with high, intellectual forehead and exquisite manners ; 
he spoke English well. His habit of life was pious and 
scholarly. He had private estates, almost as large as his 
brother’s, whose cultivation he supervised himself, ex- 
perimenting eagerly with new methods of irrigation, new 
tractors and fertilisers, new kinds of crops — a complete 
parallel to the enlightened landed gentleman of eigh- 
teenth-century England. 

He showed me his book ; a history of the Fadl family 
from the remotest times until the death of his father (un- 
fortunately shot by a British sentry during the evacua- 
tion of Lahej before the Turkish advance in 1915). It 
was written in exquisite script, illuminated with numerous 
genealogies in red and black. He hoped to have a few 
copies printed for distribution among his friends and rela- 
tives, but he did not think it was likely to command a 
wide sale. 

He suggested a drive, and went to change. His 
motoring-costume consisted of a grey overcoat, white 
shorts, khaki stockings, parti-coloured black-and-white 
shoes, and a grey silk veil. When he gave orders, his 
servants kissed his knees, and, whenever we stopped dur- 
ing the drive, passers-by hurried to salute him in the same 
way. His car was not new — I think it must have been 
one of those devised by the German mechanics from the 
debris of former accidents — but it carried a crest of 
ostrich plumes on the bonnet and an armed guard beside 
the chauffeur. We drove to his country house a mile or 
two away and walked for some time in his gardens — 
shrubs flowering in the shade of coconut-palms by the 
bank of a stream. He ordered a bunch of flowers to be 
prepared for me, and the gardeners brought a vast bvmdle 
of small, sweet-smelling roses and some great spear- 
shaped white flowers, sheathed in barbed leaves, which 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


154 

gave out a scent of almost stifling richness, reputed 
throughout Arabia, so the Germans told me later, to act 
upon women as an aphrodisiac. He also gave me twelve 
gourds of Dhala honey, eight of which were subsequently 
stolen by the butler at the guest-house, who thus, with 
unconscious kindness, relieved me of a particularly un- 
manageable addition to my luggage, without my incur- 
ring any possible self-reproach on grounds of ingratitude. 

That afternoon I visited the camp where all the tents 
were at last firmly in position, and in the evening I sat 
with the Germans, gradually disentangling from their flow 
of sound an outline of their really remarkable careers. They 
had left school at Munich when they were eighteen and, 
together with a large number of boys of their year, had 
determined to seek their fortunes. Accordingly they had 
split up into pairs, made a solemn leavetaking, and 
scattered all over the globe. They had no money, their 
only assets being a sketchy knowledge of practical 
mechanics and, they said, a natural gift for languages. 
They had worked their way doing odd jobs at garages, 
through Spain and North Africa to Abyssinia, with the 
vague intention of sometime reaching India. Two years 
before at Berbera they had heard that the Sultan of Lahej 
had just expelled his French engineer for dishonest prac- 
tices ; they had crossed the gulf on the chance of getting 
the job, had got it, and remained there ever since. They 
undertook every kind of work, from the mending of 
punctures in His Highness’s tyres to the construction of 
a ferro-concrete dam on the wadi and the irrigation of his 
entire estates. They had charge of the electric plant and 
the water-supply of the town ; they mended the firearms 
of the palace guard ; they drew up the plans and super- 
vised the construction of all new buildings ; they ad- 
vised on the choice of agricultural machinery ; with their 
own hands they installed the palace water-closet — the 
only thing of its kind in the whole of Southern Arabia. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


155 

When not otherwise engaged, they put in their time 
patching up abandoned army lorries and converting them 
into motor-buses. Their only fear was that the sultan 
might take it into his head to procure an aeroplane ; that, 
they felt, would almost certainly lead to trouble. Mean- 
while, they were as happy as the day was long ; they 
would have to move on soon, however ; it would not 
do to risk Stagnation of the Spirit. 

Sultan Achmed combined his gentler pursuits with the 
office of commander-in-chief of the army, and early next 
morning he was busy inspecting the guard of honour and 
inducing a high degree of uniformity in their equipment. 
Long before the Resident was due to arrive they were 
drawn up in the palace courtyard, arranged like straw- 
berries on a coster’s barrow, with the most presentable to 
the fore. The chiefs had been arriving on horses and 
camels throughout the preceding afternoon, and had 
been quartered according to their rank in various houses 
about the town. They formed a very remarkable spec- 
tacle as they assembled among the fumed-oak furniture 
and plush upholstery of the sultan’s state drawing-room. 
No one except the Fadl family and their Ministers had 
attempted European dress. They wore their best and 
most brilliant robes, and in most cases finely jewelled 
swords of considerable antiquity. They talked very 
little to each other, but stood about awkwardly, waiting 
for the Resident’s entry, mutually suspicious, like small 
boys during the first half-hour of a children’s party. 
Most of them, in spite of interminable genealogies, lived, 
in their own homes, a life of almost squalid simplicity, 
and they were clearly overawed by the magnificence of 
Lahej ; some from the remoter districts were barefooted 
and they trod the Brussels carpets with very uncertain 
steps ; embarrassment gave them a pop-eyed look, quite 
unlike the keen, hawk faces of cinema sheiks. While we 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


156 

were waiting, I was introduced to each in turn, and 
through my interpreter, had a few words with them, ask- 
ing whether they had had a long journey and what the 
prospects were for the crops and grazing-land. I was 
much struck by the extreme youth of the assembly ; 
except for the old Amir of Dhala, few of the chiefs seemed 
to be much older than myself, while there were one or 
two small children among them. This I learned was a 
matter of policy. The tendency of Arab communities is 
always towards the multiplication of political units, so 
that the death of a chief is invariably the occasion for 
discord and disintegration, with consequent neglect and 
damage of communal property. To mitigate this evil a 
practice of postremogeniture has arisen among those 
tribes in which, as is usually the case, the chieftainship 
is elective within the ruling family, by choosing the 
youngest eligible male and thus postponing as far as pos- 
sible the recurrence of the emergency. 

As soon as the Aden party arrived we took our places 
in the council-room, and the chiefs were formally an- 
nounced one after another in order of precedence ; each 
in turn shook hands with the Resident and then sat down 
in the chair assigned to him. Some were at first too shy 
to go the whole length of the room, and tried to get away 
with little bows from the door ; their companions, how- 
ever, prodded them on, and they came lolloping up with 
downcast eyes to give very hurried greeting and then 
shoot for a chair. It was all very much like the prize- 
giving after village sports, with Sir Stewart as the squire's 
wife and the Sultan of Lahej as the vicar, benevolently 
but firmly putting the tenants’ children through their 
paces. It was hard to believe that each of them could lead 
a troop of fighting men into the field and administer an 
ancient and intricate law to a people of perhaps fifteen 
hundred, perhaps twenty thousand souls. 

The Sultan of Lahej made a little speech, in Arabic, 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


IS7 

Opening the conference ; then Sir Stewart Symes, first in 
English and then in Arabic, reminded his audience of the 
purpose of the meeting and outlined the chief local events 
of the past eighteen months, explaining the motives and 
activities of the Aden Government. Little was said of a 
question that was clearly in everyone’s thoughts -the 
Imam of Sana. 

Round this somewhat mysterious figure centres one of 
the chief problems of immediate practical importance in 
Arabia. Civil and religious prestige, mingling indistin- 
guishably as they do in Mohammedan communities, have 
combined to give him a unique position in local politics. 
He traces his descent directly from the Zeidi Imam who, 
in A.D. 900, migrated south from Iraq and established 
himself in the Yemen highlands. From time to time, 
ancestors of his have held practically all the territory from 
the Hejaz to the Hadramaut. In 1630 they defeated the 
Turks and became paramount over most of the tribes now 
included in the protectorate ; towards the middle of the 
eighteenth century there were a series of successful Shafei 
risings in the lowlands, and, throughout the second half of 
the nineteenth century, Turkish expansion again confined 
them to the hills. The present Imam led a revolt in 1 904 
which was easily subdued by the Turks, and from then 
until 1 9 1 8 he accepted a mediatised status, confining him- 
self to the Yemen proper, and resigning claims to authority 
over the Shafei tribes. Immediately after the war, how- 
ever, he began a policy of penetration, occupying Shafei 
towns beyond the frontier agreed on by the 1903-4 
Anglo-Turkish boundary commission. In 1928 the 
British Government were induced to move, and the local 
Air Force units, co-operating with the local tribesmen, 
easily forced the Zeidi to evacuate Dhala and other “ pro- 
tected ” areas. Before the process was complete, how- 
ever, instructions were issued from London to cease ac- 
tion, leaving large Shafei districts and many hostages in 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


158 

the Imam’s hands. Since then there have been no 
oiEcial negotiations between the two parties. The 
Imam’s political policy is compromised by his religious 
position ; like the Pope, he shares the embarrassments 
with the advantages of supernatural sanction. Once 
having laid claim to the protectorate, he cannot recede ex- 
cept under superior force, and that the London Govern- 
ment are unwilling to employ. The Imam remains at 
Sana in rather anxious seclusion ; two unofficial British 
travellers were lately received by him, and entrusted with 
an embassy offering the very comic terms that the British 
should renounce all treaty obligations with the Shafei 
tribes, in return for which the Imam was willing to allow 
them possession of Aden and Perim, provided that it was 
officially and openly admitted that they were there on his 
sufferance. The British Government have adopted the 
superficially dignified attitude of complete aloofness, 
while the Imam’s private troubles pile up. He has a 
serious Shafei problem within his own dominions round 
Hodeida, and hostilities are threatening with his Wahabte 
neighbour, Ibn Saud of the Hejaz. Sooner or later he is 
bo\xnd to sue for British friendship. All this is perfectly 
satisfactory to the Colonial Office at Whitehall, but it is 
less easy to induce the actual sufferers in Arabia to take 
a long sighted view of the situation. The old Amir of 
Dhala’s brother is a hostage at Sana. The Audli country 
is in two parts ; the northern is a fertile plateau, the 
southern is desert ; the Zeidi are in possession of the 
entire northern plateau, taxing the people and consuming 
the crops ; the Audli sultan is ten years old — a child, in- 
cidentally, of some beauty and exquisite gravity, who sat 
beside his uncle throughout the conference, superbly 
dressed, his eyes lined with indigo. There was one old 
sheik who did not attend the conference this year ; he 
had jmt heard that his only son, a hostage in the Imam’s 
hands, had been killed in the collapse of the prison roof. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


159 

“ Trusteeship of weaker races ” is a phrase popularly 
current in Whitehall, where its application involves the 
bankruptcy of pioneer, white settlers in Africa ; when 
the same idea implies the risk of parliamentary criticism, 
“ Jingoism ” takes its place. 

It is very surprising to discover the importance which 
politics assume the moment one begins to travel. In 
England they have become a hobby for specialists — at 
best a technical question in economics, at worst a mere 
accumulation of gossip about thoroughly boring indi- 
viduals. One can trip about France or Italy with the 
utmost delight and profit without holding any views on 
V Action franfaise or Fascism. Outside Europe one can- 
not help being a politician if one is at all interested in 
what one sees ; political issues are implicit in everything, 
and I make no apology for their occasional appearance in 
these pages. I went abroad with no particular views about 
empire and no intention of forming any. The problems 
were so insistent that there was no choice but to become 
concerned with them. 

When the speeches were over, we adjourned to the 
drawing-room and talked until luncheon. Only the 
English party and the prime minister lunched with the 
sultan. It was a very fine banquet, including fresh 
asparagus served with onion sauce ; we drank lemon 
squash as befitted a Mohammedan function. After lun- 
cheon I took leave of the sultan and returned with the 
Aden party to the settlement. I wish I could have 
stayed longer. On the next two days the Resident was 
to hold his durbar in the camp, interviewing those of the 
chiefs who had matters to discuss with him in private. 
After that there was to be a day when no British would 
visit Lahej, in the hope that the chiefs might begin to 
form understandings with one another and share each 
other’s problems. On the last day there was to be a 



StioD 



Facing page l6o] 


KENYA, TANGANYIKA, 



AND CONGO 


MAP NO. 2 




AFRICA : SHOWING AREAS OF MAPS 





REMOTE PEOPLE 


i6o 

garden-party at the palace. I wish I could have stayed, 
but my fortnight at Aden was up. The Explorateur 
Grandidier was due next day, sailing for Zanzibar ; if I 
missed her there was another fortnight to wait. It was 
six weeks since I had had any mail ; I had arranged for 
everything to be sent to Zanzibar. My plans for the 
future were still vague, but that tight-lipped young man 
at Harar had set me considering the idea of crossing 
Africa to the west coast. And so, what with one thing 
and another, I decided to move on. 


TWO 

Everyone admitted that it was an unfortunate time to 
visit Zanzibar. Usually in the tropics, if one remarks on 
the temperature, the inhabitants assume an air of amused 
tolerance and say, “ You find this hot ? You ought to see 
what it’s like in such and such a month.” But December 
in Zanzibar is recognised as a bad season. 

Throughout my stay I am obsessed by heat ; I see 
everything through a mist, vilely distorted like those gross 
figures that loom at one through the steam of a Turkish 
bath. 

I live at the English Club. Every day, soon after dawn, 
I am awakened by the heat ; I lie there under my 
mosquito-net streaming with sweat, utterly exhausted ; 
I take time summoning enough resolution to turn the 
pillow dry side up ; a boy comes in with tea and a mango ; 
I lie there uncovered for a little while, dreading the day. 
Everything has to be done very slowly. Presently I sit 
limply in a hip-bath of cold water ; I know that before I 
am dry of the water I shall again be damp with sweat. 
I dress gradually. One wears long trousers, coat, shirt, 
socks, suspenders, bow tie, buckskin shoes, everything in 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


l6l 

this town. Half-way through dressing I cover my head 
with eau-de-quinine and sit under the electric fan. I do 
this several times during the day. They are the only 
tolerable moments. I go up to breakfast. A Goan 
steward offers me bacon and eggs, fish, marmalade. I 
eat fapai — an odious vegetable, tasteless and greasy ; it 
is good for one. I go up to the library and read local 
history. I try to smoke. The fan blows fragments of 
burning tobacco over my clothes ; the bowl of the pipe 
is too hot to hold. Through the window a very slight 
breeze carries up from the streets a reek of cloves, copra, 
and rotten fruit. A ship has been in the night before. I 
send a boy to the bank to enquire after my mail ; there is 
still nothing. I make notes about the history of Zanzi- 
bar ; the ink runs in little puddles of sweat that fall on to 
the page ; I leave hot thumb-prints on the history-book. 
The plates have all come loose and the fan scatters them 
about the library. Luncheon is early. I usually sit with 
a young official who is living at the club during his wife’s 
absence at home. I tease him by putting on an earnest 
manner and asking him for information which I know he 
will be unable to give me — “ Are there any reciprocal 
rights at law between French subjects in Zanzibar and 
British subjects in Madagascar ? Where, in the protect- 
orate Budget, do the rents appear, paid for the sultan’s 
possessions on the mainland ? What arrangement was 
made between the Italian Government and the sultan 
about the cession of the Somaliland littoral below the 
River Juba ? ” — or questions which I know will embar- 
rass him— “Were the commercial members of Council in 
favour of the loan from the Zanzibar Treasury to the 
Government of Kenya ? Is it a fact that the sultan pays 
for his own postage account and the Resident does not ; 
is it a fact that the sultan has money invested abroad 
which the administration want to trace ? ” He is very 
patient and promises to ring up the solicitor-general that 

Lp 



i 62 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


afternoon and get the facts I want. After luncheon I go 
to bed. At two-forty exactly, every afternoon, the warm 
little wind that has been blowing from the sea, drops. 
The sudden augmentation of heat wakes me up. I have 
another bath. I cover my head with eau-de-quinine and 
sit under the fan. Tea. Sometimes I go to Benediction 
in the cathedral, where it is cool. Sometimes my official 
takes me for a drive into the country, through acres of 
copra-palm and clove-trees and tidy little villages, each 
with police station and clinic. Sometimes I receive a call 
from a Turk whom I met on the ship coming here ; he 
talks of the pleasures of Nice and the glories of Constanti- 
nople before the war ; he wears close-cropped hair and a 
fez ; he cannot wear his fez in Nice, he tells me, because 
they take him for an Egyptian and charge him excessively 
for everything. We drink lemon squash together and 
plan a journey in the Hejaz. “We will ride and ride,” he 
says, “ until our knees are cut and bleeding.” He is very 
interesting about Mohammedanism, which he seems to 
regard as a family affair of his own, rather as Old Catholics 
in England regard the Universal Church. It is interest- 
ing, too, to discuss European history with an intelligent 
man who has learned it entirely from a Mohammedan 
point of view. The warmth of my admiration for 
Armenians clearly shocks him, but he is too polite to say 
so. Instead, he tells me of splendid tortures inflicted on 
them by his relatives. 

Dinner on the club terrace ; it is a little cooler now ; 
one can eat almost with pleasure. Often, in the evening, 
we go out for a drive or visit a ngoma. Once I went to the 
cinema, where, quite unlike Aden, the audience was wide 
awake — mainly composed of natives, shrieking hysteric- 
ally at the eccentricities of two drunken Americans. The 
ngomas are interesting. They are Swahili dances, 
originally, no doubt, of ritual signiflcance, but nowadays 
performed purely for recreation. Like most activities, 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


163 

native or immigrant, in Zanzibar, they are legalised, 
controlled, and licensed. A list is kept in the police 
station of their place and date ; anyone may attend. 
Once or twice, teams of fine negroes from the mainland 
made their appearance, and gave a performance more 
varied and theatrical than the local one. Missionaries 
look askance at the entertainments, saying that they 
induce a state of excitement subversive of the moral law. 
One dance we attended took place in absolute darkness ; 
we were even asked to put out our cigars. It was, as far as 
we could see, a kind of blind-man’s-buff ; a man stood in 
the centre enveloped in an enormous conical extinguisher 
made of thatched grass, while the rest of the company 
capered round him, making derisive cries, beating tins 
and challenging him to catch them. The tufted top of his 
hood could just be seen pitching and swaying across the 
sky. On another occasion a particularly good mainland 
party — from somewhere below Tanga I was told — 
brought a band of four or five tom-tom players. It was 
odd to see these men throwing back their heads and 
rolling their eyes and shoulders like trick drummers in a 
Paris orchestra. 

We made an excursion into the brothel quarter, which 
in Burton’s time, and for a generation after, was one of 
the most famous in the East. Now, however, there is 
nothing to see or to tempt the young official from domes- 
ticity. It is squalid and characterless. Moreover, at the 
sight of us the women ran into their houses or hid in their 
yards. It was assumed at once that we were spies, not 
customers. This is creditable or not to the character of 
British officialdom, according as you like to look on it. 

The only thing which does not appear to be under the 
benevolent eye of the administrator in Zanzibar is witch- 
craft, which is still practised surreptitiously on a very 
large scale. At one time, Zanzibar and Pemba - particu- 
larly the latter island — were the chief centres of black art 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


164 

in the whole coast, and novices would come from as far as 
the great lakes to graduate there. Even from Haiti, it is 
said, witch doctors will occasionally come to probe the 
deepest mysteries of voodoo. Nowadays everything is 
kept hidden from the Europeans, and even those who have 
spent most of their lives in the country have only now and 
then discovered hints of the wide, infinitely ramified cult 
which still flourishes below the surface. No one doubts, 
however, that it does flourish, and it seems appropriate 
that it should have its base here in this smug community. 

One day my Turkish friend and I drove out to tea at 
Bububu. This name had lived in my mind ever since a 
question was asked in the House of Commons about the 
future of the Bububu railway, I had hoped that perhaps 
one day Mr. Sutro might choose the Zanzibar-Bububu 
line for a Railway Club dinner. But alas, like the Lahej 
railway, it has now been abolished and the scraps sold for 
what they will fetch. One can still discern traces of the 
impermanent way among the copra-palms on the out- 
skirts of the town. 

The village and surrounding estate belong to a stout, 
bald, very cheerful Arab, a cousin of the sultan’s. He 
drove us out from Zanzibar, pointing on the way to the 
derelict villas of various of his relatives. His own was far 
from neat, but large, and set in a beautiful walled garden 
full of fountains, many of which had been made to work in 
our honour. The furniture was a curious medley of 
pseudo-Oriental — which Orientals seem greatly to prefer 
to the products of their own craftsmen — and pseudo- 
European. We sat outside on the terrace in the shade of a 
dense mango-tree, perched on the inevitable Hyde Park 
chairs, and ate biscuits and preserved ginger. Whiskey 
and soda had been produced for me, the Turk conscien- 
tiously confining himself to tea. My host seemed fairly 
certain that I was in some way connected with the 
Government - the fact that I bore no official rank making 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


165 

my mission the more important — and he was at some 
pains to express his dearest loyalty to the British adminis- 
tration. According to the gracious Arab custom, we 
were loaded with flowers on our return. 

I think that, more than the climate, it is the absence of 
any kind of political issue which makes Zanzibar so 
depressing. There are no primary problems at all ; 
such difficulties as there are, are mere matters of the suit- 
able adjustment of routine. There are no perceptible 
tendencies among the people towards nationalisation or 
democracy. The sultan is the model of all that a figure- 
head should be ; a man of dignified bearing and reput- 
able private life. He has no exclusively valid claim to his 
office ; the British Government put him there, and they 
pay him a sufficient proportion of his revenue to enable 
him to live in a modest degree of personal comfort and at 
the same time support a system of espionage wide enough 
to keep him in touch with the doings of his protectors. 
The two main industries of the islands, cloves and copra, 
are thoroughly prosperous compared with any other form 
of agriculture on the East African coast. Law and order 
are better preserved than in many towns in the British 
Isles. The medical and hygienic services are admirable ; 
miles of excellent roads have been made. The adminis- 
tration is self-supporting. The British Government takes 
nothing out of the island. Instead, we import large 
numbers of well-informed, wholly honest members of our 
unemployment middle class to work fairly hard in the 
islanders’ interest for quite small wages. Gay, easily 
intelligible charts teach the Swahili peasants how best to 
avoid hook-worm and elephantiasis. Instead of the 
cultured, rather decadent aristocracy of the Oman Arabs, 
we have given them a caste of just, soap-loving young 
men with Public School blazers. And these young men 
have made the place safe for the Indians. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


i66 

British imperialism takes on an odd complexion in 
some parts of the world. In East Africa its impetus was 
neither military nor commercial, but evangelical. We 
set out to stop the slave-trade. For this reason, and 
practically no other, public opinion forced on the Govern- 
ment the occupation of Zanzibar and the construction of 
the Uganda railway. In the last two decades of the nine- 
teenth century, zealous congregations all over the British 
Isles were organising bazaars and sewing-parties with 
the single object of stamping out Arabic culture in East 
Africa. There was an alliance between Church and State 
as cordial as it always should have been, but rarely was, 
between Papacy and Empire. The Mohammedans were 
to be driven out with the Martini rifle and Goatling 
gun ; the pagans were to be gently elevated with the 
hymn-book. 

The firearms did their work, and a constant supply of 
curates flowed to the mission-field. But for every curate 
there were a dozen grubby parasites eager to take advan- 
tage of the new code administered by the amateur law- 
givers. Throughout Zanzibar and Pemba, Indians have 
obtained control of the entire retail trade ; almost without 
exception every shop — from the tailor who makes mess- 
jackets for the Resident’s A.D.C. to the petty grocer in a 
tin shed up country who cheats the peasant out of a few 
pice in the sale of cigarettes — is in Indian hands. The 
British bankruptcy law seems to have been devised 
expressly for Hindu manipulation. From Zanzibar as far 
as the lakes, every magistrate tells the same story, of 
Indian traders who set up shop without capital, obtain 
goods on credit, transmit money to India, go bankrupt 
for the value of their original stock, and then start again. 
No Arab or European can compete with them, because 
they can subsist on a standard of living as low as the 
natives. But with this difference. What among the 
natives is a state of decent, primitive simplicity is squalor 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


167 

among the Indian immigrants, because where the natives 
are bound by tribal loyalties and wedded to their sur- 
roundings by a profound system of natural sanctity, the 
East African Indians are without roots or piety. More 
than this, in the islands (but not to any important extent 
on the mainland) the Indians are gradually obtaining 
possession of the soil. The Arabs are by nature a hospit- 
able and generous race and are “ gentlemen ” in what 
seems to me the only definable sense, that they set a high 
value on leisure ; deprived by the Pax Britannica of their 
traditional recreations, these qualities tend to degenerate 
into extravagance and laziness, as they do in any irre- 
sponsible aristocracy. Following the normal European 
rake’s progress, they run into debt, mortgage their 
estates. This, under the protection of British law, has 
been the Indians’ opportunity. The courts are continually 
busy with applications by Indians for possession of Arab 
property. The former landed gentry either take up posi- 
tions as managers on their old estates or else drift to the 
town, where they hang about the cafts in tattered finery, 
offering their services as guides to tourists. An English 
legal officer told me he was convinced that, in the great 
majority of the cases he tried, the money advanced was a 
very small fraction of the value of the property. What 
could one do ? — the Arabs signed anything without 
reading it. 

No doubt the process was inevitable ; it is the Arabs’ 
fault ; they have failed to adapt themselves to the 
economic revolution caused by the suppression of the 
slave-trade, and they must consequently be submerged. 
There was nothing the British could have done about it. 
All this is true, but the fact remains that if the British had 
not come to East Africa the change would not have taken 
place. We came to establish a Christian civilisation and 
we have come very near to establishing a Hindu one. We 
found an existing culture which, in spite of its narrowness 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


l68 

and inflexibility, was essentially decent and valuable ; 
we have destroyed that -or, at least, attended at its 
destruction - and in its place fostered the growth of a 
mean and dirty culture. Perhaps it is not a matter for 
censure ; but it is a matter for regret. 

So far I have said nothing about the town. 

Seen from the sea, as one approaches it, it is pretty, but 
quite unremarkable. Palm-groves stretch out on either side ; 
the town looks very small and flat. There are no domes or 
minarets, as the puritanical tenets of the particular sect 
that is locally espoused, forbid display of this kind. The 
chief houses on the front are the sultan’s palace and the 
“House of Wonders” — the translation of the Arabic 
name for the municipal offices ; there is a good staircase 
in this building, but neither it nor the Palace show any- 
thing of interest from outside. The plan of the town is 
infinitely involved, a tangle of alleys, winding in and out, 
turning in their course and coming surprisingly to dead 
ends or leading back to their points of departure. The 
houses are solid Arab-work of the seventeenth and 
eighteenth centuries, mostly with fine doorways of carved 
wood and massive doors studded with brass bosses. 
Almost all the interiors have admirable staircases. One 
excellent quality commends this system of town planning 
— everything is extremely compact. In towns such as 
Nairobi, Mombasa, or Kampala, which have grown up 
since the introduction of hygiene, one is continually 
involved in expensive taxi rides. At Zanzibar the 
residency, catheiral, club, bank, post office, hotel, offices, 
and shops are all within five minutes’ walk of one another. 
The town is, I suppose, as good an example of Arabic 
eighteenth-century architecture as survives intact any- 
where. Liner passengers, trotting round in rickshaws, 
are apt to attribute greater antiquity to it. I met at least 
one lady who associated it with biblical time, 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


169 

Zanzibar in the time of Burton must have been a city of 
great beauty and completeness. Now there is not a 
single Arab in any of the great Arab houses ; there are, 
instead, counting houses full of Indian clerks or flats 
inhabited by cosy British families and scattered with 
Egyptian hieroglyphics in applique embroidery, Benares 
brass, cane chairs, school groups, “ finds ” from the 
bazaars, and European children’s toys. The alleys, 
at least in the European quarter, are absurdly clean, 
and memsahibs go hooting down them in Morris 
two-seaters. 

The modern architecture has mostly been rather happy. 
The residency and the museum — an interesting collection 
created and preserved by the delightful Dr. Spurier — 
are the work of an amateur, rather over-impressed by the 
glamour of his surroundings. My Turkish friend, 
indeed, could not for some time be persuaded that the 
museum was not the tomb of some notable, and was 
accustomed to make appropriate devotions as he passed 
it, until I drew him inside and pointed out the bottled 
snakes, the decorations of the late sultan, the autographed 
letters of felicitation from Queen Victoria, Livingstone’s 
medicine chest (which, by the way, contained practically 
no quinine, but an enormous variety of pharmaceutically 
valueless poisons), propagandist photographs of un- 
vaccinated children suffering from small-pox, and other 
objects of interest. The latest buildings, however, de- 
signed by the present official architect seemed to me very 
good indeed, combining great economy and restraint with 
a delicate receptiveness to local influences. He has not 
yet had scope, however, for any work requiring high imag- 
ination. It will be a great pity if, while he holds his ofiice, 
some fanatic does not succeed in destroying the sultan’s 
boring nineteenth-century palace, so that he may have the 
rebuilding of it. Neither cathedral is of much artistic 
interest. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


170 

I went to Pemba for two nights. It is all cloves, coco- 
nuts, and tarmac, very much like the interior of Zanzibar. 
A small steamboat, the Halifax makes a weekly journey to 
the north end of the island and back ; the crossing takes 
a night. I disembarked at Mkoani, a green hillside 
scattered with bungalows ; the water below the little 
landing-stage was clearer than I ever saw sea-water — 
every pebble, fathoms down, perfectly visible. I drove 
with the provincial commissioner to Weti, stopping to 
pay various calls on the way at Chake-Chake and a model 
estate managed by a community of Quakers. A delightful 
dinner that night with the doctor and his wife; no non- 
sense about stiff shirts and mess-jackets ; we dined in 
pyjamas in a garden where preparations were being made 
for a Christmas-party. This was the only household in 
the island which possessed an electric-light plant, and the 
best was being made of it with globes swung from the 
trees. Next day - Christmas Eve — I sailed back to 
Chake-Chake, bathed in a party, went to cocktails at two 
bungalows, and dinner at a third, where a highly acri- 
monious dispute broke out late in the evening about the 
allotment of Christmas presents. My hosts were two 
elderly bachelors. They were giving a joint Christmas- 
party to the European children of the island, and a fine 
heap of toys had arrived for them in the Halifa for distri- 
bution to their guests. They rehearsed the business with 
chairs for children. “ This will do for So-and-So’s little 
boy,” and “ This for So-and-So’s girl,” and “ Have the 
So-and-So’s got two children or three ? ” At first 
it was all very harmonious and Dickensian. Then 
suspicion of favouritism arose over the allocation of a 
particularly large, brightly painted indiarubber ball. 

“ Mary ought to have it ; she’s a sweet little thing.” 

“ Peter ’s brother has just gone to school in England. 

He’s terribly lonely, poor kiddy.” The ball was put first 
on one dump, then on the other ; sometimes it rolled off 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


I7I 

and bounced between them. “ Sweet little thing ” and 
“ Lonely kiddy ” became battle-cries as the big ball was 
snatched backwards and forwards. It was an odd sight 
to see these two hot men struggling over the toy. Pres- 
ently came the inevitable “ All right. Do as you like. I 
wash my hands of the whole thing. I won’t come to the 
party.” Renunciation was immediately mutual. There 
was a sudden reversal of the situation ; each party tried 
to force the ball upon the other one’s candidate. I 
cautiously eschewed any attempts at arbitration. Finally 
peace was made. I forget on what terms, but, as far as I 
remember, the ball was given to a third child and all the 
other heaps were despoiled to compensate Mary and 
Peter. They certainly came very well out of the business. 
Later that evening I went back to the Hdifa. Some of my 
new friends came to see me off. We woke up the Goan 
steward and persuaded him to make lemon squash for us. 
Then we wished one another a happy Christmas, for it was 
past midnight, and parted. Early next morning we 
sailed for Zanzibar, arriving at tea-time. My mail had 
not yet come. 

Christmas seemed very unreal, divorced from its usual 
Teutonic associations of yule logs, reindeer, and rum 
punch. A few of the Indian storekeepers in the main street 
had decked their windows with tinsel, crackers, and irides- 
cent artificial snow ; there was a homely creche in the 
cathedral ; beggars appeared with the commendation 
“ Me velly Clistian boy ” ; there was a complete cessation 
of the little club life that had flourished before. I thought 
that I should have to spend Christmas Night alone, but 
Dr. Spurier introduced me to a delightful party in a flat 
near the wharf. 

Eventually the mail arrived, and I was able to leave for 
Kenya. I took an almost empty Italian liner named the 
Mazzini. Her main business is done between Genoa and 
Mombasa. She then makes a week’s round trip to 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


172 

Zanzibar, Dar-es-Salaam, and back to Mombasa, and so 
to Europe. Her few passengers were nearly all restful 
people taking a few days’ holiday on the water. The best 
thing about this ship was a nice old cinematograph ; the 
worst was a plague of small blackbeetles which overran 
the cabins and died in vast numbers in the baths. An 
English lady declared that she had been severely stung 
by one in the back of the neck — but I find this difficult to 
believe. She and her husband were from Nairobi. It was 
the first time they had seen the sea since their arrival in the 
country eleven years before. The husband was a manu- 
facturer of bricks. The trouble about his bricks, he said, 
was that they did not last very long ; sometimes they 
crumbled away before they had been laid ; but he was 
hopeful of introducing a new method before long. 

We stopped at Dar-es-Salaam. It was hideously hot 
and there seemed little of interest in the town — some 
relics of Arab and German occupation, a rash of bunga- 
lows, a corrugated-iron bazaar full of Indians. I visited 
the agent of the Belgian Congo and explained that I had 
an idea of returning to Europe by way of the West Coast. 
He was sympathetic to the idea and told me of an air 
service running weekly between Albertville and Boma ; 
the fare was negligible, the convenience extreme. He 
showed me a time-table of the flight. It was two years 
old. He had not yet received the new one, but, he assured 
me, I could be confident that any changes that might 
have been made would be changes for the better. I 
believed him. 

On the last day of the year we arrived at Mombasa. I 
had spent a pleasant evening there on my way down. It is 
a green island, linked to the mainland by a bridge. The 
English have converted it into a passable reproduction of 
a garden-city. Kilindini docks lie at some distance out- 
side the town. They are very grand - far finer than any- 
thing I had seen since Port Said ; there is a Portuguese 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


173 

fort, bits of an Arab quarter, a club, golf-links, bathing- 
beach, some hotels. On this particular morning, how- 
ever, my whole time was occupied with the immigration 
oiRcers. 

We were called up to interview them in the saloon. 
They were a pair of chubby nonentities who at home might 
have secured posts at an inferior private school or in the 
counting-house of some wholesale drapery business in the 
Midlands. In Mombasa they were people of authority 
and very ready to show it. I presented a passport in 
which a former foreign secretary requested and required 
in the name of His Majesty that all whom it might con- 
cern should allow me to pass freely without let or hind- 
rance and should afford me any assistance and protection 
of which I might stand in need. I did not need very 
much. All I wanted was to catch the 4.30 train to 
Nairobi. On the face of it, it seemed a simple business. 
Not at all. The foreign secretary’s commendation did 
not seem to be wholly intelligible. I was given a form 
to fill in. Why was I coming to Kenya ? For how long .? 
Whom did I know there ? Where was I going to stay 
How much money had I got ? Under what other aliases 
was I accustomed to travel ? Of what crimes had I been 
convicted in what countries ? I completed the form and 
handed it over. They read my replies, shaking their 
heads significantly at one another, and asked me to wait 
behind while they dealt with the less suspicious pas- 
sengers. Presently they tackled me again. What proofs 
had I of the truth of my statements .? I went below, un- 
packed my luggage and brought up letters of credit for a 
little under two hundred pounds, and introductions to 
the colonial secretary and the apostolic delegate. My 
inquisitors held a whispered conference. Then they said 
that they required a deposit of fifty pounds. Was this 
obligatory on all visitors No, but my replies had been 
unsatisfactory. In what way unsatisfactory ? At about 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


174 

this stage an element of mutual dislike became apparent 
in the tone of our conversation. 

“ You say that you intend to remain here about three 
weeks. Why do you not say exactly ? ” 

“ Because I have not yet decided. It may be five weeks. 
It may be two. It depends how I like the country.” 

“ You say your address at Nairobi is ‘ uncertain.* 
What do you mean by that ? ” 

“ I mean that I do not know. I have wired to a 
friend ” - naming the chief A.D.C. at Government 
House — “ asking him to engage a room for me. He has 
promised to get me one at Muthaiga Club if it is possible. 
As it is race week there will probably be some difficulty. 
I shall either be there or at Torr’s Hotel. I shall not 
know which until I reach Nairobi.” 

More mutterings. Then : 

“ Have you got fifty pounds on you in East African 
currency ? ” 

“ No, I can give you a cheque.” 

“ That will not do. We shall hold your luggage and 
passport until you pay us fifty pounds in notes.” 

“ When shall I get it back ? ” 

“ When you leave the country.” 

“ But I shall be leaving through Uganda.” 

“You must report to the emigration officer at the fron- 
tier. He will write for it.” 

“ That will take some time ? ” 

“ Probably about a week.”* 

“ You mean that I shall have to wait a week at the 
frontier station.” 

“ Yes, that is what we mean.” 

I drove into the town, cashed a cheque and returned to 
Kilindini. The immigration officers had now left the 
ship. I drove back to their office in the town, then back 

^ As it turned out, the money was eventually refunded to me in London towards 
the middle of April. 



REMOTE PEOPLE I 75- 

to Kilindini with their permission to land, then back to 
the town with my luggage. 

That is how I spent my morning. 

And so I entered Kenya fully resolved to add all I 
could to the already extensive body of abusive literature 
that has grown up round that much misunderstood 
dependency. 


THREE 

But my ill temper gradually cooled as the train, with 
periodic derailments (three, to be exact, between Mom- 
basa and Nairobi) climbed up from the coast into the 
highlands. In the restaurant car that evening I sat oppo- 
site a young lady who was on her way to be married. She 
told me that she had worked for two years in Scotland 
Yard and that that had coarsened her mind ; but since 
then she had refined it again in a bank at Dar-es-Salaam. 
She was glad to be getting married as it was impossible 
to obtain fresh butter in Dar-es-Salaam. 

I awoke during the night to draw up my blanket. It 
was a novel sensation, after so many weeks, not to be 
sweating. Next morning I changed from white drill to 
grey flannel. We arrived in Nairobi a little before lunch 
time. I took a taxi out to Muthaiga Club. There was no 
room for me there, but the secretary had been told of my 
coming and I found I was already a temporary member. 
In the bar were several people I had met in the Explor- 
ateur Grandidier, and some I knew in London. They were 
drinking pink gin in impressive quantities. Someone 
said, “ You mustn’t think Kenya is always like this.” 
I found myself involved in a luncheon party. We went 
on together to the Races. Someone gave me a cardboard 
disc to wear in my button-hole ; someone else, called 
Raymond, introduced me to a bookie and told me what 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


176 

horses to back. None of them won. When I offered 
the bookie some money he said in rather a sinister way 
“ Any friend of Mr. de Trafford’s is a friend of mine. 
We’ll settle up at the end of the meeting.” 

Someone took me to a marquee where we drank cham- 
pagne. When I wanted to pay for my round the barman 
gave me a little piece of paper to sign and a cigar. 

We went back to Muthaiga and drank champagne out 
of a silver cup which someone had just won. 

Someone said, “You mustn’t think Kenya is always 
like this.” 

There was a young man in a sombrero hat, trimmed 
with snake skin. He stopped playing dice, at which he 
had just dropped twenty-five pounds, and asked me to 
come to a dinner party at Torrs. Raymond and I went 
back there to change. 

On the way up we stopped in the bar to have a cocktail. 
A man in an orange shirt asked if we either of us wanted 
a fight. We both said we did. He said, “ Have a drink 
instead.” 

That evening it was a very large dinner-party, taking 
up all one side of the ballroom at Torrs. The young lady 
next to me said, “You mustn’t think that Kenya is always 
like this.” 

After some time we went on to Muthaiga. 

There was a lovely American called Kiki, whom I had 
met before. She had just got up. She said, “ You’ll 
like Kenya. It’s always like this.” 

Next morning I woke up in a very comfortable bed- 
room ; the native boy who brought my orange juice said 
I was at Torrs. 

I had forgotten all about Mombasa and the immigra- 
tion officers. 

Another side of Nairobi life : I sit at a table in the 
offices of the Indian Association, talking to the Indian 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


177 

leaders. They are named Mr, Isher Dass, Mr. Varma, 
and Mr. Shams-ud-Deen, Mr. Isher Dass is very 
conciliatory ; he thanks me often for my open minded 
attitude ; he says that he hopes my book will be unlike 
Mother India. “ Quite unlike,” I assure him. Mr. 
Varma is very pugnacious ; he smokes cigars all the time ; 
bangs the table and snarls. He says that colour prejudice 
in Kenya has come to such a pass that Indians are made to 
share the same waiting-rooms with natives. I detect an 
inconsistency in that argument, but think it best to say 
nothing for fear of a scene. Mr. Varma looks as if he 
were up to anything. Mr. Shams-ud-Deen has a gentler 
and more incisive mind. He is the only one worth 
talking to, but Mr. Varma makes such a noise that it is 
impossible to say anything. On the whole it is an un- 
satisfactory interview, but when I leave they present me 
with several controversial pamphlets of their own compo- 
sition. These tell me all they were trying to say. In fact, 
I find phrase after phrase occurring which I remembered 
in their conversation. Clearly they know their case by 
heart. Raymond finds me reading the pamphlets and 
remarks that he is all for the blacks, but Indians are more 
than he can stand ; besides they spreadjiggas and bubonic 
plague. Then he drives me out to Muthaiga. The wind- 
screen of his car has been broken overnight, and the body 
heavily battered. He remarks that someone must have 
borrowed it. 

Another Nairobi scene ; an evening picnic in the game 
reserve from Government House. We consist of the 
Acting-Governor and his wife ; the A.D.C.s, an agri- 
cultural expert from England, and the race-week house- 
party ; the latter includes a whiskered cattle rancher, 
very tall and swarthy, in the clothes of a Mexican bandit ; 
oddly enough he is called “ Boy ” ; his wife is slight and 
smart, with enormous eyes and an adventurous past ; she 

Mp 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


178 

once rode alone from Addis Ababa to Berbera ; she too 
has a queer name — Genessie. 

We drive to a place called Lone Tree, disturbing herds 
of zebra and wildebeeste ; their eyes flash bright green, 
dazzled by our spotlight. We make a detour and see 
some hyenas — but not as close as the one at Harar — and 
little jumping creatures called diks-diks. Meanwhile, 
the servants have lit a great bonfire and put motor 
cushions round it. We sit down and eat supper, the 
A.D.C.S doing all the polite drudgery that makes most 
picnics hideous ; presently most of the party fall asleep, 
except poor Genessie, whom I keep awake with descrip- 
tions of Abyssinia (it is only some days later that I realise 
she knows far more about it than I do). 

Already, in the few days I had spent at Nairobi, I found 
myself falling in love with Kenya. There is a quality 
about it which I have found nowhere else but in Ireland, 
of warm loveliness and breadth and generosity. It was 
not a matter of mere liking, as one likes any place where 
people are amusing and friendly and the climate is 
agreeable, but a feeling of personal tenderness. I think 
almost everyone in the highlands of Kenya has very much 
this feeling, more or less articulately. One hears them 
grtambling about trade conditions, about the local govern- 
ment and the home government, but one very rarely hears 
them abuse the country itself as one hears Englishmen 
abroad in any other part of the world. It is little to be 
wondered at if, when they feel their positions threatened, 
this feeling takes form in expressions of local patriotism 
which seem fantastic in Whitehall. 

I am concerned in this book with first-hand impres- 
sions, and wish to avoid, as far as possible, raising issues 
which it is not in my scope to discuss at length, but 
personal experiences are dependent on general conditions 
and I cannot hope to make my emotions about Kenya 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


179 

intelligible unless I devote a few sentences to dissipating 
some of the humbug which has grown up about it. 

One very common idea of Kenya is spread by such 
books as Frederic de Janz6’s Vertical Land. I began this 
chapter with the description of a day spent in the de Janz6 
circle between Muthaiga and Torr’s. My reason for 
doing so was first that it made a contrast with the churlish 
officialdom of the coast and secondly that, in point of 
fact, this happened to be the succession of events as I 
remember them, on my first day in Nairobi. People were 
insistent that I should not regard Race Week as typical of 
the life of the country, because “ the Happy Valley ” has 
come in for too much notoriety in the past. No one 
reading a book about smart people in London or Paris 
takes them as representing the general life of the country ; 
but it is exactly this inference which is drawn when a 
book is written about smart people in Kenya. Even in 
the set I met at Muthaiga, only a small number are quite 
so jolly all the year round. “ Boy,” for instance, owns the 
largest cattle farm in the country and, incredible as it 
sounds, knows almost every beast individually by sight. 
Of the settler community in general, the great majority 
are far too busy on their farms to come to Nairobi, except 
on an occasional predatory expedition to the bank or the 
Board of Agriculture. 

Another quite inconsistent line of criticism represents 
the settlers as a gang of rapacious adventurers. Mr. 
Macgregor Ross’s Kenya from Within did a great deal to 
popularise this view and, when the more sober London 
weeklies mention the affairs of East Africa, their com- 
ments are more often than not inspired by the same kind 
of mistaken high-mindedness. It is on the face of it, 
rather surprising to find a community of English squires 
established on the Equator. By the doctrine, just old- 
fashioned enough to be prevalent in refined English 
circles, they have no business there at all ; the soil is the 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


i8o 

inalienable property of the African coloured races, and the 
sooner it is made untenable for the white settlers, the 
better. This dogma, it may be noted, is not held to apply 
everywhere ; its strongest advocates are quite ready to 
hasten the eviction of traditional landowners in their own 
country, while in the settlement of the Near East, two 
exercises in arbitrary statesmanship have been attempted 
which are in principle contradictory both to this attitude 
and to each other — the transhipment of Jews to Palestine 
and of Anatolian Christians to Greece. 

But, of course, it is futile to attempt to impose any kind 
of theological consistency in politics, which are not an exact 
science but, by their nature, a series of makeshift, rule-of- 
thumb, practical dewces for getting out of scrapes. There 
is in existence a body of serious opinion in England which, 
holds that in the past, the Africans have been unjustly 
exploited by European commercial interests, and is 
anxious to prevent this in future. It is unprofitable to 
discuss the question of abstract “ rights ” to the land ; 
if one does, one is led into all kinds of ethnological by- 
ways — have the Nilotic immigrant tribes any more 
“ right ” in East Africa than the British ? One must 
confine oneself to recent history and rough justice. There 
is one general principle which one may accept ; that the 
whole of history from the earliest times until to-day, has 
been determined by the movements of peoples about the 
earth’s surface ; migratory tribes settled and adapted 
their cultures to new conditions ; conquest, colonisation, 
commercial penetration, religious proselytising, topo- 
graphical changes, land becoming worked out, pastures 
disappearing, harbours silting up — have preserved a 
constant fluidity of population. It is useless to pretend 
that, suddenly, at tjhe beginning of the Boer War, the 
foundation of the Third International, or at this or that 
time in recent history, the piano stopped and the musical 
chairs were over, the lava stream cooled and congealed. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


l8l 

and the whole process was at an end, for no other reason 
than that the enlightened people of Northern Europe — 
having lost their belief in revealed religion and falling 
back helplessly for moral guidance on their own tenderer 
feelings — have decided that it is Wrong. The process 
will go on, because it is an organic process in human life. 
One nation may artificially restrain its people from going 
to a certain place ; it may bring about the ruin of those 
who do. But in the end the future of European settle- 
ment in Central Africa will depend on the suitability of 
the country for the foreign system of cultivation by large, 
individual landowners, on the ability of the immigrant 
races to maintain efficiency in an alien climate, to pro- 
pagate there, and on the re-establishment of the world’s 
markets on a basis which will enable them to sell their 
produce at a price high enough to maintain their stand- 
ard of living. On first acquaintance, and for a few months 
visit, the climate of the Kenya highlands is slightly 
intoxicating but wholly agreeable. It is still uncer- 
tain, however, whether Nordic people will be able to 
live permanently at that altitude and on that lati- 
tude. Until the second generation have grown up, it is 
impossible to say. Many of the children I met seemed 
perfectly normal in health, and peculiarly self-reliant ; 
in others there seemed to be a somewhat morbid alterna- 
tion of listlessness and high excitement. There is as yet 
no adequate secondary education. Those who can afford 
it, send their children to school in England. 

It must be remembered that only a part - about two 
thousand families in all — of the small European popula- 
tion can be regarded as citizens of the colony. The 
officials and commercial agents serve their term and then 
retire to England ; the settlers look upon the country as 
their permanent home ; the two groups can scarcely be 
expected to regard local policy from the same point of 
view or with the same concern. The officials are sure of 



i 82 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


their pay and their pensions ; the settlers mostly depend 
on local prosperity for their entire livelihood. They are 
people who bought their farms and sunk the whole of 
their capital in them ; during the good years they re- 
invested the greater part of their profits in building, 
buying more land, machinery and stock. From many 
European accounts you might suppose that all they had 
done was to drive out a few scared natives and take posses- 
sion of fully equipped properties, as though they were an 
invading army occupying an agricultural English county. 
Very large grants of land were made to early settlers, such 
as Lord Delamere, who had the means to develop them. 
Except in the case of pasturage the land was, as it stood, 
valueless for cultivation on a large scale ; it consisted 
for the most part of tracts of bush country which had to 
be cleared either by hand or by machinery imported at 
great expense from abroad ; there were no roads by which 
the products could be brought to market. It is, in fact, 
one of the many grounds for Indian complaint that the 
farmers have been obliged to undertake the task bit by 
bit, and that even now the greater part of the land 
distributed to Europeans is still waiting for full develop- 
ment. While the present uncertainty persists there is 
little inducement to the settlers to add to their commit- 
ments. Large fortunes have been made in the past by 
speculating in real estate at Mombasa and Nairobi. 
Throughout the country as a whole, however, investment 
in land — whether it has taken the form of clearing and 
planting free grants of virgin soil or of the actual purchase 
of already developed farmland — has, in the past ten years, 
proved barely profitable and during the last eighteen 
months, uniformly disastrous. It is not big business 
enterprise which induces the Kenya settlers to hang on to 
their houses and lands, but the more gentle motive of love 
for a very beautiful country that they have come to regard 
as their home, and the wish to transplant and perpetuate a 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


183 

habit of life traditional to them, which England has ceased 
to accommodate — the traditional life of the English 
squirearchy, which, while it was still dominant, formed 
the natural target for satirists of every shade of opinion, 
but to which now that it has become a rare and exotic 
survival, deprived of the normality which was one of its 
determining characteristics, we can as a race look back 
with unaffected esteem and regret. I am sure that, if 
any of them read this book, they will deny with some 
embarrassment, this sentimental interpretation of their 
motives. It is part of the very vitality of their character 
that they should do so. They themselves will say simply 
that farming was impossible in England, so they came to 
Kenya, where they understood that things were better ; 
they will then grouse a little about the government, and 
remark that after all, bad as things are, it is still possible to 
keep a horse or two and get excellent shooting - things 
only possible at home for those who spend the week in 
an office. That would be their way of saying what I have 
just said above. The Kenya settlers are not cranks of 
the kind who colonised New England, nor criminals and 
ne’er-do-wells of the kind who went to Australia, but 
perfectly normal, respectable Englishmen, out of sym- 
pathy with their own age, and for this reason linked to 
the artist in an unusual but very real way. One may 
regard them as Quixotic in their attempt to recreate 
Barsetshire on the equator, but one cannot represent 
them as pirates and land grabbers. 

That particular charge, so often put forward by African 
Nationalists, would in any case apply directly only to a 
tiny section of the existing white population, the vast 
majority of whom came into the country after the question 
of inalienable native reserves had been, one hopes, finally 
settled. Even if grossest injustice had been done by the 
original settlers, it could hardly be expiated by a corres- 
ponding injustice to their successors. The question is 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


184 

not one of importance in the present situation. It may, 
however, be remarked that as a matter of fact there has 
never been an example of colonisation carried out with so 
little ill-will between the immigrant and the indigenous 
races, or with such scrupulous solicitude for the weaker 
party. At the time of the construction of the Uganda 
railway, vast tracts of the present colony of Kenya were 
completely uncultivated and uninhabited. Walls of 
desert were the only protection which the agricultural 
tribes could put up against the warrior tribes. It was 
from these neutral areas that a large proportion of the 
European farms were developed. In cases where natives 
were found in possession, they were asked to mark out 
the territory which they habitually used, allowance was 
made for their expansion and their whole area was made 
over to them before any claims by colonists were con- 
sidered in the neighbourhood. That, at any rate, was the 
principle. It is impossible to say how far in practice there 
may have been corruption or mild coercion ; whether 
the natives invariably understood that, in making their 
claims, they were limiting themselves permanently within 
the boundaries they drew out. It is, on the face of it, 
probable that in the general large process there were 
occasional failures to apply the principle in absolute 
purity ; but there is no evidence that failure was at all 
extensive, except in the case of the Masai. No one can 
.reasonably pretend that their treatment was just or 
expedient. It may be said, with perfect truth, that the 
Masai are a race of bullies ; that the only international 
law they ever recognised was that of superior strength, 
and that they were treated according to their own 
morality. The fact remains that their wholesale eviction 
from Laikipia in 1904, where they had been induced 
to migrate with explicit guarantees of permanent posses- 
sion, was gravely dishonourable according to European 
morality, and a blunder in statesmanship which was 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


185 

aggravated by the uncertainty with which it was carried 
out. The superb physique of the race fits them for the 
part of noble savage which nationalists have been eager 
enough to assign to them, and they remain the least 
responsive people in East Africa to the benevolent 
attentions of the Colonial Office. Theyhxve been prevented 
in their traditional pastime of murdering their pacific 
neighbours by the ingenious device of confiscating their 
shields, (which thus renders them and their herds defence- 
less against lion). When, as compensation, they were 
offered the privilege of participation in the late war, they 
refused, providing the only example of wholly successful 
conscientious objection. Lately, however, a new opening 
has been found for them as cinema actors. Shields are 
dealt out — a restoration which on one occasion at least, 
resulted in a fine resumption of bloodshed — ^and they are 
sent out before a barrage of well protected camera — men 
to spear lion in the bush for the amusement of European 
and American audiences, sheltering their courtships from 
the rain. 

Everyone I met was anxious to impress on me that 
there was no “ native problem ” ; that the whole thing 
was invented in London and Bombay. It would be 
absurdly pretentious after a few weeks in the country to 
make any general statement on a question as broad as that. 
What I can say with conviction, however, is that all the 
European settlers I met, while eschewing Colonial Office 
uplift, had a sense of responsibility towards their native 
employees, and a half humorous sympathy with them, 
which compared strikingly with the attitude of most 
European capitalists towards factory hands. People 
abused their native servants in round terms and 
occasionally cuffed their heads, as they did their 
English servants up to the end of the eighteenth century. 
The idea of courtesy to servants, in fact, only came into 
being when the relationship ceased to be a human one 



i86 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


and became purely financial. The cases of cruelty of white 
to black, quoted by Mr. Macgregor Ross, are mere ex- 
amples of pathological criminality which can be found 
anywhere without distinction of race ; white people are 
cruel to white, black to black, white to black, and when 
prestige is inoperative, black to white. The cases in 
Kenya from Within have some significance in their bearing 
on the way iij which justice is administered in African 
courts, but none on the relationship of white masters to 
black servants. When the settlers say that there is no 
native problem, they mean that they can see nothing 
essentially incompatible between the welfare of the two 
races. I am sure that they are perfectly sincere in saying 
this. On the other hand they are alarmed by the Duke of 
Devonshire’s term “ paramountcy.”* 

I went to a pantomime in Nairobi, performed (incident- 
ally extremely well) by amateurs. The comic man, 
dressed as the Widow Twankey or an ugly sister of 
Cinderella’s, I forget which, had as one of his chief 
recurrent gags, the line “ I will have paramountcy.” The 
word rankles and it is clearly embarrassing to the settlers 
that it should have been used by a Conservative Minister. 
If it had been coined by that most ridiculed nobleman. 
Lord Passfield of Passfield Corner, it could have been 
pigeon-holed as “ Labour ” and forgotten ; coming from 
the Duke of Devonshire it seems a betrayal of their cause 
in the quarter where they most expected support. There 
is a slight infection of persecution mania about all political 
thought in the colonies, just as there is megalomania in 
Europe. Words like “ paramountcy ” are inflamma- 
tory. In its context the term is a typical assertion of 
public highmindedness with no particular application. 
“ Primarily Kenya is an African territory and His Majesty's 
Government think it necessary definitely to record their con- 
sidered opinion that the interests of the African natives must 
* Kenya White Paper 1923. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


187 

be ‘paramount and that if, and when, those interests and the 
interests of the immigrant races should conflict, the former 
should prevail'' There is very little menace in “ para- 
mountcy,” stated in this vaguely pious way. So far as 
the East African European interests are threatened by 
the policy declared in the White Paper of 1923, it seems 
to me to be in quite a sufficient direction ; the insistence 
of the integrity of the territory as a whole introduces 
an essentially foreign bureaucratic attitude opposed to 
what is the present disposition of those on the spot to 
regard the white settled highlands and the native reserves 
as different states in a federation. There is no question of 
the white settlers being handed over to the rule of natives ; 
there was a question of natives being ruled by settlers. 
There were serious objections to this and the object of the 
White Paper was to assert that the home government 
would not contemplate such a devolution of authority. 
A slightly sinister note, if one wishes to find one, lies in 
the ascription of the settled highlands to the “ primarily 
African ” territory. 

The relationship of settler to native is primarily that of 
an employer of labour, and there is no reason why this 
should not become easier rather than less easy as the 
second generation of natives grow up who are accustomed 
to the idea of white neighbours and curious to see more of 
the world than life in the reserves can offer. The fear 
apparent in the White Paper that officials are being used 
for semi-compulsory recruitment of labour, or that local 
taxation was assessed with the motive of driving natives 
outside the reserves to work, seems to have little foun- 
dation enough, and should, in the normal course of 
progress, rapidly disappear. 

The Indian question, however, is a different matter. 
There was very nearly armed rebellion on the issue in 
1923, and the ill feeling then aroused is still present, 
sometimes subterraneously complicating and embittering 



i88 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


simple questions, often frankly apparent on both sides. 
The trouble is both social and political. The more edu- 
cated, professional Indians resent their exclusion from 
the social life of the Europeans ; they are not admitted 
to the hotels, bars or clubs of the colony and, in practice 
though not by law, they are segregated in railway trains 
and the residential quarters of towns. They are not 
allowed to occupy or speculate in land in the highlands. 
They outnumber the Europeans by rather more than 
two to one. In the allotment of non-official seats in the 
legislative council, provision is made for eleven elected 
Europeans and five elected Indians.* Education is kept 
separate between the races, each community being taxed 
at a different rate for the support of its own schools.* 
There is very little hope of high promotion for Indians in 
government service. There is a long list of “ grievances,” 
which Mr. Varma spat out at me as though I were 
individually responsible for them all ; until in fact I 
began to wish that I were. He resented the fact that 
separate lavatories were provided for Indians in trains ; he 
said that, as a member of the British Empire he insisted 
on owning land in the highlands. I asked whether he set 
great store by his membership of the Empire and he said 
he did not. I asked him whether the cultivation of a 
highland farm would not interfere with his practice in 
Nairobi. For reply he quoted figures that seemed to 
show that an Indian who owned a farm near the Nandi 
escarpment had done better with his coffee than his 
European neighbours. When, later, I asked his 
European neighbours they said that the farm was 
notorious for miles round as the breeding place of every 
pest which afflicted their crops. It is impossible to find 

‘ Also for one Arab and one missionary nominated to represent native 
interests. 

* There is also a liquor tax devoted to education, divided proportion- 
ately between the two communities. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


189 

out the truth when you really get down to the brass tacks 
of racial antagonism. Most of the “ grievances ” in- 
volved no particular hardship, except deprivation of 
European intercourse, for which it is hard to believe 
Mr. Varma had any sincere aspiration. 

The situation is that the settlers want Kenya to consist 
of white people, owning the soil and governing them- 
selves, and Indians to be foreigners, allowed full free- 
dom of trade but divorced from the life of the country ; 
the Indians want it to be an Indian colony governed on 
the wretched old principle of head-counting, which they 
have pulled out of the pie of European education. Both 
sides are capable of hypocrisy in their bandying about of 
the phrase native welfare ” to support their claims. I 
do not think that the most whole-hearted supporter of 
Indian Nationalism would claim that the East African 
Indians were suitable “ trustees ” for a people not yet 
able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions 
of the modern world,”* nor, I think, would Major 
Grogan maintain that the majority of settlers came to 
Kenya primarily to protect the pagans from Hindu 
influence. 

At the time of writing, the situation, complicated by 
the commission on Closer Union, is in an impasse. The 
Indians refuse to take up the seats allotted them in the 
Council ; the business of government is managed by the 
official Europeans and criticised by the elected ones. The 
Indians hold out for a common electoral roll ; the Hilton 
Young Commission - whose whole report was an example 
of the futility of the attempt to scrutinise evidence by a 
body who were not previously agreed upon their political 
principles — advised a common franchise, if adopted with 
the consent of the European community. It is probable 
that Mr. Varma would refuse his common franchise if 
it came to him with European consent, and it is quite 
* Kenya White Paper. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


190 

certain that European consent will not be forthcoming. 
Meanwhile, no one finds the lack of Indian co-operation 
a serious embarrassment, except the Government of 
India, who have been at greater difficulty in persuading 
Indians in India of the essentially harmonious natures of 
the two races, and of the advantages accruing to member- 
ship of the British Empire, while events are following 
this course in East Africa. 

It is barely possible to explain to North Europeans the 
reality of race antagonism. For so many generations the 
Mediterranean peoples have been at war with the infidel 
that they have learned to accept it calmly as a normal 
thing, and therefore seem often to be immune from it, 
as Turks are said at advanced age to become immune 
from syphilis. But the Northern races, confronted 
with the danger of domination or infection by a coloured 
race, tend to go a little mad on the subject. The fear of 
Indians, negroes, Japanese or Chinese obsesses one or 
other of all the branches of the Nordic race who, by 
leaving their own sea mists and twilight, have exposed 
themselves to these strangers. Anglo-Saxons are perhaps 
worse than any. It is easy enough for Anglo-Saxons in 
London, whose only contact with coloured peoples is to 
hear gramophone records of spirituals, or occasionally 
share a ’bus with a polite, brown student, to be reasonable 
about the matter and laugh at the snobbery of their 
cousins in India or shudder at the atrocities of their more 
distant cousins in Virginia, but the moment they put on 
a topee, their sanity gently oozes away. “You can see he 
hasn’t been out before,” someone remarked to me in an 
outward bound liner as we observed an Englishman 
offering some mild, normal courtesy to a negro first-class 
passenger. Alas, it was true. In East Africa as yet there 
are no negroes in positions where they could possibly 
contemplate equality with the whites ; Anglo-Saxon 
sanity remains undisturbed in that direction. But when 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


191 

some newly-arrived Anglo-Saxon advises equal franchise 
with Indians (on a basis of qualification by education 
which will still enable the Anglo-Saxons to keep domin- 
ance in practice though resigning it in theory), then there 
is a talk about kidnapping the Governor and the “ Boston 
tea-party.” It is not a matter one can be censorious about. 
Gentle reader, you would behave in just the same way 
yourself after a year in the tropics. It is just a lack of 
reasoning — I will not call it a failing — to which our race 
is prone as the Malays are prone to periodical fits of 
homicidal mania. The reciprocal feeling which people 
like Mr. Varma have about Anglo-Saxons is every bit as 
unbalanced. It really is not a thing to censure, but it is 
something to be remembered when considering the 
temperament of this equatorial Barsetshire. And one 
other point — it is just conceivable that they may be right. 
When over a long period a great number of otherwise 
respectable people consistently deny the conclusions of 
their own reason on some particular point, it may be a 
disease like roulette, or it may be a revelation like the 
miracles of Lourdes. It Is just worth considering the 
possibility that there may be something valuable behind 
the indefensible and inexplicable assumption of superi- 
ority by the Anglo-Saxon race. 

As I have said above, it is uncertain whether the kind of 
life which the Kenya settlers are attempting to re- 
establish, is capable of survival ; whether indeed the 
European colonisation of Africa will survive in any form ; 
whether there may not be in the next twenty-five years a 
general Withdrawal of the Legions to defend Western 
civilisation at its sources. But, whatever its future, it is 
an experiment in transplanted social institutions as 
interesting in its way as the Spanish settlement of America 
or the Norman baronies of the Levant. 

At the end of Race Week, Raymond and I left Nairobi 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


192 

and drove through the Rift Valley to Lake Naivasha. A 
bad road ; red earth cut into deep ruts ; one of the best 
roads in the country. On the way we pass other settlers 
returning to their farms ; they wear bright shirts and wide 
felt hats ; they drive box-body cars, in most cases heaped 
with miscellaneous hardware they have been buying at 
the capital ; groups of Kikuyu, the women with heavy 
luggage on their backs supported by a strap round their 
foreheads ; their ears are slit and ornamented ; their 
clothes of copper-coloured skins ; the men have mostly 
made some effort at European dress in the form of 
discarded khaki shorts or an old hat. They attempt a 
clumsy kind of salute as we pass, smiling and saying 
“ Jambo bwana,” rather as children in England still wave 
their pocket handkerchiefs to trains. I have heard it said 
that you can tell the moment you cross into Kenya 
from Uganda or Tanganyika territory by the sulky, 
oppressed demeanour of the natives. That seemed to me 
true, later, of the South African Union but without 
foundation in Kenya. Perhaps the observation was first 
made by someone crossing from the south directly into 
the Masai reserve ; anyway, journalists in London have 
found it a convenient remark to repeat. 

The scenery is tremendous, finer than anything I saw 
in Abyssinia ; all round for immense distances successive 
crests of highland. In England we call it a good view if 
we can see a church spire across six fields ; the phrase, 
made comic by the Frankaus of magazine fiction, “ Wide 
Open Spaces,” really does mean something here. 
Brilliant sunshine quite unobscured, uninterrupted in its 
incidence ; sunlight clearer than daylight ; there is 
something of the moon about it, the coolness seems so 
unsuitable. Amber sunlight in Europe ; diamond sun- 
light in Africa. The air fresh as an advertisement for 
toothpaste. 

We are going to stay with Kiki. She lives in a single 





Host and Hostess at Naivasha 


p . 193 





REMOTE PEOPLE 


193 

Storied, very luxurious house on the edge of the Lake. 
She came to Kenya for a short Christmas visit. Someone 
asked her why she did not stay longer. She explained 
that she had nowhere particular to go. So he gave her 
two or three miles of lake front for a Christmas present. 
She has lived there off and on ever since. She has a hus- 
band who shoots most sorts of animals, and a billiard room 
to accommodate their heads. She also has two children 
and a monkey, which sleeps on her pillow. There was 
an English general staying in the house. He had come all 
the way from England to shoot a rare animal called a 
Bongo ; he had meant to spend all the winter that way. 
He got his bongo the first week on safari. He felt rather 
at a loose end. The General was delightful. One day 
after dinner we talked about marriage and found ourselves 
in agreement on the subject. (A little while ago I was 
lunching at a restaurant in London when I was suddenly 
hit hard between the shoulders and someone said “ Jambo 
bwana.” It was the General. I asked him to luncheon 
next week, and secured numerous beautiful girls to talk 
to him. He never came.) 

It was lovely at Naivasha ; the grass ran down from the 
house to the water, where there was a bathing-place with a 
little jetty to take one clear of the rushes. We used to 
swim in the morning, eat huge luncheons and sleep in the 
afternoon. Kiki appeared soon after tea. There were 
small, hot sausages at cocktail time. Often, very late 
after dinner, we went into the kitchen and cooked eggs. 
(There is an important division between the sort of house 
where you are allowed to cook after midnight, and the 
house where, if you are hungry, dry sandwiches are 
shown you, between decanters.) Once Kiki and I went 
for a walk as far as some ants, fifty yards up the garden. 
She said, “ You must just feel how they can sting,” and 
lifted a very large one on to the back of my hand with a 
leaf. It stung frightfully. More than that, several others 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


194 

ran \ip the leg of my trouser and began stinging there. 

In Kenya it is easy to forget that one is in Africa ; then 
one is reminded of it suddenly, and the awakening is 
agreeable. One day before luncheon we were sitting on 
the terrace with cocktails. Kiki’s husband and the 
General were discussing someone they had blackballed 
for White’s ; Raymond was teaching chemin-de-fer to 
Kiki’s little boy ; there was a striped awning over our 
heads and a gramophone — all very much like the South 
of France. Suddenly a Kikuyu woman came lolloping 
over the lawn, leading a little boy by the hand. She said 
she wanted a pill for her son. She explained the sort of 
pain he had. Kiki’s husband called his valet and trans- 
lated the explanation of the pain. The valet advised soda 
mint. When he brought it, the woman held out her 
hand but they — to the woman’s obvious displeasure — 
insisted on giving it directly to the child. “ Otherwise 
she would eat it herself the moment she was round the 
corner.” Apparently the Kikuyu have a passion for 
pills only equalled in English Bohemia ; they come 
at all hours to beg for them, usually on the grounds 
that their children are ill, just as Europeans beg for 
sixpences. 

After a time Kiki made a sudden appearance before 
breakfast, wearing jodhpurs and carrying two heavy 
bore guns. She had decided to go and kill some 
lions. 

So Raymond and I went to his house at Njoro. 

One does not — or at any rate I did not - look upon 
farming as the occupation of a bachelor, perhaps only 
because I had so often seen the words “ Farmer’s Wife ” 
staring at me from hoardings or perhaps through some 
atavistic feeling of sympathetic magic that fertility in 
promoting crops and family were much the same thing. 
Whatever the reason, the large number of bachelor 
farmers was, to me, one of the surprising things about 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


195 

Kenya. Raymond is one, though perhaps he is more 
typically bachelor than farmer. I spent about a fortnight 
with him off and on at Njoro ; sometimes he was away for 
a day or two, sometimes I was. A delightful if rather 
irregular visit. His cook was away all the time. There 
was a head boy called Dunston who spent most of the day 
squatting outside cooking bath water on a wood fire. I 
learned very few words of Swahili. When I woke up I 
said, “ Woppe chickule, Dunston ? ” which meant, 
“ Where is food, Dunston ? " Dunston usually replied, 
“ Hapana chickule bwana,’' which meant, “ No food, my 
lord.” Sometimes I had no breakfast ; sometimes I 
found Raymond, if he was at home, sitting up in bed 
with a tin of grouse paste and a bottle of soda water, and 
forced him to share these things with me ; sometimes if 
the telephone was working I rang up Mrs. Grant, the 
nearest neighbour, and had breakfast with her. We used 
to lunch and dine at the Njoro golf club or with the 
neighbours ; very friendly dinner parties, Irish in 
character, to which we bounced over miles of cart track 
in a motor van which Raymond had just acquired in 
exchange for his car ; it was full of gadgets designed to 
help him capture gorillas in the Eturi forest— a new idea of 
Raymond’s, prompted by the information that they 
fetched two thousand pounds a head at the Berlin Zoo — 
but was less comfortable than the car for ordinary social 
use. 

The houses of Kenya are mainly in that style of archi- 
tecture which derives from intermittent prosperity. In 
many of them the living-rooms are in separate buildings 
from the bedrooms ; their plan is usually complicated by 
a system of additions and annexes which have sprung up 
in past years as the result of a good crop, a sudden burst 
of optimism, the influx of guests from England, the 
birth of children, the arrival of pupil farmers, or any of 
the many chances of domestic life. In many houses 



REM OTE PEOPLE 


196 

there is sadder evidence of building begun and aban- 
doned when the bad times came on. Inside they are, as 
a rule, surprisingly comfortable. Up an unfenced cart- 
track, one approaches a shed made of concrete, match- 
boarding, and corrugated iron, and, on entering, finds 
oneself among old furniture, books, and framed minia- 
tures. 

There are very few gardens ; we went to one a few 
miles outside Njoro where an exquisite hostess in golden 
slippers led us down grass paths bordered with clipped 
box, over Japanese bridges, pools of water-lilies, and 
towering tropical plants. But few settlers have time for 
these luxuries. 

Boy and Genessie, with whom I spent a week-end, have 
one of the “ stately homes ” of Kenya ; three massive 
stone buildings on the crest of a hill at Elmentaita over- 
looking Lake Nakuru, in the centre of an estate which 
includes almost every topographical feature - grass, bush 
forest, rock, river, waterfall, and a volcanic cleft down 
which we scrambled on the end of a rope. 

On the borders a bush fire is raging, a low-lying 
cloud by day, at night a red glow along the horizon. The 
fire dominates the week-end. We watch anxiously for 
any change in the wind ; cars are continually going out 
to report progress ; extra labour is mustered and des- 
patched to “ burn a brake ” ; will the flames “ jump ” 
the railroad ? The pasture of hundreds of head of cattle 
is threatened. 

In the evening we go down to the lakeside to shoot 
duck ; thousands of flamingo lie on the water ; at the 
first shot they rise in a cloud, like dust from a beaten 
carpet ; they are the colour of pink alabaster ; they wheel 
round and settle further out. The head of a hippopo- 
tamus emerges a hundred yards from shore and yawns 
at us. When it is dark the hippo comes out for his 
evening walk. We sit very still, huddled along the 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


197 

running-boards of the cars. We can hear heavy footsteps 
and the water dripping off him ; then he scratches him- 
self noisily. We turn the spotlight of the car on him and 
reveal a great mud-caked body and a pair of resentful 
little pink eyes ; then he trots back into the water. 

Again the enchanting contradictions of Kenya life ; a 
baronial hall straight from Queen Victoria’s Scottish 
Highlands - an open fire of logs and peat with carved- 
stone chimney-piece, heads of game, the portraits of prize 
cattle, guns, golf-clubs, fishing-tackle, and folded news- 
papers - sherry is brought in, but, instead of a waist- 
coated British footman, a bare-footed Kikuyu boy in 
white gown and red jacket. A typical English meadow 
of deep grass ; model cowsheds in the background ; a 
pedigree Ayrshire bull scratching his back on the gate- 
post ; but, instead of rabbits, a company of monkeys 
scutter away at our approach ; and, instead of a smocked 
yokel, a Masai herdsman draped in a blanket, his hair 
plaited into a dozen dyed pigtails. 

I returned to Njoro to find Raymond deeply involved 
in preparations for his gorilla hunt ; guns, cameras, 
telescopes, revolvers, tinned food, and medicine chests 
littered tables and floors. There was also a case of 
champagne. “ You have to have that to give to Belgian 
officials — and, anyway, it’s always useful.” 

That evening I dined with the Grants. They had an 
Englishwoman staying with them whose daughter had 
been in the party at Genessie’s. She was a prominent 
feminist, devoted to the fomentation of birth-control and 
regional cookery in rural England, but the atmosphere of 
Kenya had softened these severe foibles a little ; she was 
anxious not to be eaten by a lion. It had been arranged 
that we should all climb Mount Kilimanjaro together ; 
this plan, however, was modified, and, instead, we de- 
cided to go to Uganda. I wanted to visit Kisumu before 
leaving Kenya, so it was decided that they should pick 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


198 

me up there on the following Sunday. Next day I 
watched Raymond loading his van, and that evening we 
had a heavy evening at the Njoro club. Early the day 
after, I took the train for Kisumu. 

It was here that I had one of the encounters that com- 
pensate one for the blank, nightmare patches of travelling. 
I was going second class. My companion in the carriage 
was a ginger-haired young man a few years older than 
myself ; he had an acquaintance with whom he discussed 
technicalities of local legislation ; later this man got out 
and we were left alone. For some time we did not speak 
to each other. It was a tedious journey. I tried to read 
a copy of Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy which I had 
stolen from Raymond’s shelves. Presently he said, 
“ Going far ? ” 

“ Kisumu.” 

“ What on earth for ? ” 

“ No particular reason. I thought I might like it.” 

Pause. “ You’re new in the country, aren’t you ? ” 

“ Yes.” 

“ I thought you must be. Kisumu’s bloody.” 

Presently he said again : “ What have you seen so 
far ? ” 

I told him briefly. 

“Yes, that’s all most visitors see. They’re delightful 
people, mind you, but they aren’t typical of Kenya.” 

Two or three stations went by without any further 
conversation. Then he began getting together his lug- 
gage -a kit bag, some baskets, a small packing-case, 
and an iron stove-pipe. “ Look here. You won’t like 
Kisumu. You’d far better stay with me the night.” 

“ All right.” 

“ Good.” 

We got out at a station near the Nandi escarpment and 
transferred his luggage to a Ford van that was waiting 
some distance away in charge of an Indian shopkeeper. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


199 

“ I hope you don’t mind ; I’ve got to see my brother- 
in-law first. It isn’t more than thirty miles out of the 
way.” 

We drove a great distance along a rough track through 
country of supreme beauty. At cross roads the signposts 
simply bore the names of the settlers. Eventually we 
arrived at the house. There were several people there, 
among them a man I had been at school with. Until 
then my host and I did not know each other’s names. 
There was an Italian garden, with trimmed yew hedges 
and grass, balustraded terrace, and a vista of cypresses ; 
in the distance the noble horizon of the Nandi hills ; 
after sundown these came alight with little points of fire 
from the native villages ; the household was playing 
poker under a thatched shelter. My host transacted his 
business ; we drank a glass of Bristol Cream and con- 
tinued the journey. It was now quite dark. Another 
very long drive. At last we reached our destination. A 
boy came out to greet us with a lantern, followed by an 
elderly lady — my host’s mother-in-law. “ I thought you 
were dead,” she said. “ And who is this ? ” 

“ He’s come to stay. I’ve forgotten his name.” 

“ You’ll be very uncomfortable ; there’s nothing in 
the home to eat and there are three swarms of bees in the 
dining-room.” Then, turning to her son-in-law ; “ Be- 
linda’s hind-quarters are totally paralysed.” 

This referred, not, as I assumed, to her daughter, but, 
I learned later, to a wolfhound bitch. 

We went up to the house — a spacious, single-storied 
building typical of the colony. I made some polite 
comment on it. 

“ Glad you like it. I built most of it myself.” 

“ It is the third we have had in this spot,” remarked 
the old lady. “ The other two were destroyed. The 
first caught fire ; the second was struck by lightning. 
All the furniture I brought out from England was 



200 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


demolished. I have had dinner prepared three nights 
running. Now there is nothing.” 

There was, however, an excellent dinner waiting for 
us after we had had baths and changed into pyjamas. We 
spent the evening dealing with the bees, who, at night- 
fall, had disposed themselves for sleep in various drawers 
and cupboards about the living-room. They lay in 
glutinous, fermenting masses, crawling over each other, 
like rotten cheese under the microscope ; a fair number 
flew about the room stinging us as we dined ; while a 
few abandoned outposts lurked among the embroidered 
linen sheets in the bedrooms. A subdued humming 
filled the entire house. Baths of boiling water were 
brought in, and the torpid insects were shovelled into 
them by a terrified native boy. Some of the furniture 
was carried out on to the lawn to await our attention in 
the morning. 

Next day we walked round the farm - a coflFee planta- 
tion. Later, a surveyor of roads arrived and we drove all 
over the countryside pointing out defective culverts. 
During the rains, the old lady told me, the farm was 
sometimes isolated from its neighbours for weeks at a 
time. We saw a bridge being built under the supervision, 
apparently, of a single small boy in gum-boots. Poor 
Belinda lay in a basket on the verandah, while over her 
head a grey and crimson parrot heartlessly imitated her 
groans. 

The surveyor took me to the station for the afternoon 
train to Kisumu — a town which proved as dreary as my 
host had predicted — numerous brand-new, nondescript 
houses, a small landing-stage and railway junction, a 
population entirely Indian or official. The hotel was 
full ; I shared a bedroom with an Irish airman who was 
prospecting for the Imperial Airways route to the Cape. 
Next day, Sunday, I went to church and heard a rousing 
denunciation of birth-control by a young Mill Hill 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


201 


Father. The manager of the hotel took me for a drive 
in his car to a Kavirondo village where the people still 
wore no clothes except discarded Homburg hats. Then 
Mrs. Grant arrived with the feminist and her daughter. 

We drove to Eldoret and stayed at one more house, 
the most English I had yet seen — old silver, family por- 
traits, chintz-frilled dressing-tables - and next day 
crossed the frontier into Uganda. 


FOUR 

In its whole character, Uganda is quite distinct from 
Kenya. It is a protectorate not a colony. Instead of the 
estates of white settlers, one finds evidence of European 
interest, in seminaries, secondary schools, “ homes,” 
welfare centres, Christian missions of all denominations, 
theological colleges, and innumerable frantic cyclists. 

Long before the coming of Arabs or English, the 
Baganda people had attained a fair degree of organisa- 
tion. They had, and still have, a centralised monarchy, 
an hereditary aristocracy, a complex and consistent system 
of law. They are quick witted - so much so that Sir 
Harry Johnston has described them as “ the Japanese of 
Africa ” - and ambitious of education. They have 
accepted Christianity, some as a mere constituent part of 
the glamorous Western civilisation they covet, others 
with genuine spiritual fervour. They have thrown them- 
selves eagerly into theological controversy, hurtling 
texts backwards and forwards like shuttlecocks ; there 
are several magazines in Kampala, edited and written by 
natives, devoted almost exclusively to this form of 
journalism. They take a lively interest in the technicali- 
ties and theories of local government, land tenure, and 
trade organisation. The national costume is a model of 



202 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


decency - a single white gown which covers them com- 
pletely to neck, wrist, and ankle. They have a written 
language which can boast a literature of sorts ; in addi- 
tion to which many of them speak both English and 
Swahili. 

Of course, this culture is remarkable only in compari- 
son with their savage neighbours in Kenya, Tanganyika, 
and the Congo, and it is confined to a minority among the 
Baganda. The population of the Protectorate is still for 
the most part made up of completely unsophisticated 
peasant cultivators. The inhabitants of an ordinary 
Baganda village do not show evidence of any special 
superiority ; they do differ radically, however, from their 
neighbours in having a conscious national unity and a 
progressive intelligentsia. They are being educated to- 
wards the old-fashioned ideal of representative institu- 
tions, and official British policy abhors the idea of a per- 
manent white population which might embarrass this 
development, as it will do in Kenya. 

There was nothing, however, to mark the frontiers of 
the two territories. We crossed some time during the 
morning and arrived at Jinja in the late afternoon. It 
would be tedious to describe each of the lakeside settle- 
ments ; they vary in size, but are all identical in char- 
acter, neat, sanitary, straggling ; a landing stage and an 
office ; sometimes a railway station and an hotel ; some- 
times a golf links ; genial, official nonentities, punctilious 
and slightly patronising. Entebbe is drearier than most ; 
Jinja slightly gayer ; Kisumu is the norm. 

At Jinja there is both hotel and golf links. The latter 
is, I believe, the only course in the world which posts a 
special rule that the player may remove his ball by hand 
from hippopotamus footprints. For there is a very old 
hippopotamus who inhabits this corner of the lake. Long 
before the dedication of theRipon Falls it was his practice 
to take an evening^stroll over that part of the bank which 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


203 

now constitutes the town of Jinja. He has remained set 
in his habit, despite railway lines and bungalows. At 
first, attempts were made to shoot him, but lately he has 
come to be regarded as a local mascot, and people return- 
ing late from bridge parties not infrequently see him 
lurching home down the main street. Now and then he 
varies his walk by a detour across the golf links and it is 
then that the local rule is brought into force. 

There were several big-game hunters staying in the 
hotel, so that there was not room for all of us. Accord- 
ingly I went off to the Government rest-house. These 
exist all over Africa, primarily for the convenience of 
travelling officials, but private individuals may make use 
of them, if they are empty. They vary in range from small 
hotels to unfurnished shelters. At Jinja there was a bed- 
stead and mattress, but no sheets or blankets. I had just 
made a collection of the overcoats of the party when we 
saw a black face grinning at us from below the hotel 
steps. It was Dunston, hat in hand, come to report the 
loss of Raymond. He and the neighbour who was join- 
ing his gorilla hunt had gone on in a car, leaving Dunston 
and the native driver to follow in the van. Somewhere 
they had missed the road. Anyway, here was the van 
with the rifles and provisions and “ Hapana bwana de 
Trafford.” Dunston wanted instructions. We told him 
to take bwana de Trafford’s blankets to the rest-house, 
make up the bed, and then wait for further instructions. 
Meanwhile we wired to Eldoret, Njoro, and Nairobi, re- 
porting the position of Raymond’s lorry. I do not know 
whether he ever found it, for we left next morning for 
Kampala. 

Here I said good-bye to my companions and estab- 
lished myself at the hotel. I was becoming conscious of 
an inclination to return to Europe and wanted to get 
down to Albertville and the Belgian air service as soon as 
I could. A kind-hearted young travel agent tried to 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


204 

persuade me to pay him £,60 to arrange my route through 
Lake Kivu, but I found in the end that it would be 
quicker and a great deal cheaper to stick to the regular 
service round Lake Victoria to Mwanza ; from there to 
Tabora and Kigoma, and so across Lake Tanganyika to 
my goal. From now on, this record becomes literally a 
“ travel book ” ; that is to say that it deals less with the 
observation of places than with the difficulties of getting 
from one place to another. 

There were still five days, however, to put in before 
the lake steamer called for Mwanza, and these days I 
spent in a milieu that was mainly ecclesiastical, for 
the missions hold most of the strings of Uganda 
policy. 

In reaction from the proselytising fervour of fifty years 
ago, there is at the moment a good deal of distrust of 
foreign missions. Many officials, in unofficial moments, 
will confess that if they had their way they would like to 
clear all the missionaries out of the country ; many 
private persons told me that they would never engage a 
“ mission boy ” as a servant — they were always dishonest 
and often insolent. By an anti-imperialist interpretation 
of history, missionaries are regarded as the vanguard of 
commercial penetration. Romantics with a taste for local 
colour denounce them as the spoil sports who have clothed 
the naked and displaced fine native carving with plaster 
statuettes of the Sacred Heart. More serious sociologists 
maintain that tribal integrity, and with it the whole tradi- 
tional structure of justice and morality, is being under- 
mined by the suppression of tribal initiation ceremonies. 
Many good Churchmen in Europe are not, I think, free 
from a slight resentment at the large sums yearly sub- 
scribed and despatched for the doubtful benefit of remote 
corners of the globe, which might be employed at home 
on work of immediate and obvious importance. From 
all sides, criticism is being directed against these heroic 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


205 

outposts. One cannot remain a night in Kampala with- 
out finding one’s sympathies involved on one side or the 
other. 

Of course, from the theological aspect, there is no 
room for doubt ; every soul baptised, educated in the 
Faith and upheld by the sacraments in Christian life, 
whether it inhabits a black or white body, is so much 
positive good. Moreover, since growth is a measure 
of life, it is impossible that the Faith should not spread - 
expansion is organically inseparable from its existence. 
But theological arguments have little efficacy in modern 
controversy. It seems to me that this can be conceded 
to the general scepticism about Westernisation : that 
had it been possible to prevent alien influence - European 
Arab, or Indian — from ever penetrating into Africa ; 
could the people have lived in invincible ignorance, 
developing their own faith and institutions from their 
own roots ; then, knowing what a mess we have made 
of civilisation in Europe and the immense compensating 
ills that attend every good we have accomplished, we may 
say that it would have been a mischievous thing, as long 
as there were any pagans left in Europe, to try and con- 
vert Africa. But it is quite certain that, in the expan- 
sive optimism of the last century, Africa would not have 
been left alone. Whether it wanted it or not, it was 
going to be heaped with all the rubbish of our own con- 
tinent ; mechanised transport, representative govern- 
ment, organised labour, artificially stimulated appetites for 
variety in clothes, food, and amusement were waiting for 
the African round the corner. All the negative things 
were coming to him inevitably. Europe has only one 
positive thing which it can offer to anyone, and that is 
what the missionaries brought. In Uganda the mission- 
aries got there before the trader or the official, and it is to 
this priority that they owe their unique position as man- 
agers of the entire elementary and secondary education 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


206 

of a country in which education is regarded as the highest 
function of government. 

Kampala is built on seven hills, three of which are 
occupied by ecclesiastical buildings. There is the great 
cathedral at Ruaga, the Mill Hill mission at Nsambia, 
and, opposite them, the Church Missionary Society’s 
cathedral — a really beautiful domed building, made en- 
tirely by native workmen. On a fourth is Makerere 
College, a secular institution, where the prize students 
of the mission schools receive a fairly advanced education. 
It is hoped that eventually this will form the nucleus of an 
East African university. Meanwhile the entrance exam- 
inations are hotly contested. Rivalry is intense between 
the Catholic missions and the C.M.S. It is not forty 
years since the last religious war was fought there. The 
occasional lapses into polygamy of the native Protestant 
clergy are greeted by the Catholic laity with unchristian 
delight, and the Makerere class lists are watched as a fair 
indication of the relative merits of the two faiths. 

At the time of the religious war the issues had become 
fatally confused with the question of nationality. To-day 
the Catholic missions have become thoroughly cosmo- 
politan ; at Ruaga they are mainly French, but Bishop 
Camplin at Nsambia is a Scotsman, Mother Kevin at 
Kokonjiro is Irish, the Teaching Brothers are, many of 
them, Canadian, and Father Janssen, the parish priest of 
Kampala, is Dutch. It was Father Janssen who acted as 
my guide during the five days at Kampala ; an unfor- 
gettable figure, with vast beard, gaitered legs, and pipe of 
foul Boer tobacco, who drove about the town on a motor- 
bicycle defending the purity of his converts, when neces- 
sary, by force. He had built most of his church with his 
own hands, making clever counterfeits of woodcarving 
with the aid of a cement-mould and a paint-pot. With 
him I went round fever wards, maternity homes, schools, 
and seminaries ; a gallant, indefatigable, inflexible man. 









Convent Garden in Uganda 


P 207 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


207 

His only personal ambition was to get away from the 
smug amenities of Kampala into the wilds, preferably to 
the head-hunters of Borneo, where he had begun his 
service. 

We went out together to luncheon at Kokonjiro, a 
convent of native girls presided over by two European 
nuns and a woman doctor. They wear habit and live by 
strict rule ; here they are trained as nurses and school- 
teachers. At the convent they manage a small farm and 
hospital, and in recreation time do skilled needlework. 
It does not sound very remarkable to a reader in Europe ; 
it is astounding in Central Africa — this little island of 
order and sweetness in an ocean of rank barbarity ; all 
round it for hundreds of miles lie gross jungle, bush, and 
forest, haunted by devils and the fear of darkness, where 
human life merges into the cruel, automatic life of the 
animals ; here they were singing the offices just as they 
had been sung in Europe when the missions were little 
radiant points of learning and decency in a pagan wilder- 
ness. The only thing which upset the calm of Kokonjiro 
was the ravages of white ants in the sanctuary steps. 

On the way back we stopped at a boys’ school kept by 
Teaching Brothers ; a loutish class were at work on the 
history syllabus for Makerere. The subject that after- 
noon was “ The Rivalry between Venice and Genoa in 
the Sixteenth Century.” Professor Huxley, in African 
View, derided the teaching of Latin at the Tabora 
seminary. It seems to me that the Makerere history 
syllabus is a far more notable example of unimaginative 
education. Swahili, his local dialect, and the kind of 
colloquial English he is likely to learn in the secular 
schools do not give the African a vehicle he can use with 
precision when his mind comes to interest itself in the 
more complex aspects of his own existence ; Latin, 
intrinsically, is of value to him. But what sort of 
significance can the details of European history have to 



2o8 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


a man who will most probably never leave his own terri- 
tory, and has never seen more than a handful of Euro- 
peans in his life ? 

I left Kampala on the following Sunday afternoon. 
The Rusinga, in which I travelled down the lake, was a 
comfortable little boat staffed with four smart officers 
who wore white and gold uniforms in the mornings and 
blue and gold at night. The voyage was uneventful ; at 
Entebbe we ran into a plague of small fly ; an Indian 
clerk in new boots paced the deck all night and kept me 
awake. On Tuesday we reached Bukoba and took on 
several more passengers ; for the first time we came 
under grey skies, a pleasant experience after the invari- 
able white glare of the preceding months. From now on 
we were in the rains. Bukoba was German built, before 
the war. It has rather more character than the other lake 
stations, with acacia avenues and substantial little houses 
with sturdy porticoes. On Wednesday I disembarked 
at Mwanza, where I spent a day and a half in a grubby 
hotel kept by a Greek. It is a deadly little town populated 
chiefly by Indians. I had to share a room with a C.M.S. 
chaplain. At meals I sat with him and an elderly “ tough- 
egg” from Manchester, engaged in the cotton trade. At 
least he was so engaged until Thursday morning. He 
had come down from the south to meet his local manager. 
When he returned from the interview I asked, with what 
I hoped would be acceptable jocularity, “ Well, did you 
get the sack ? ” 

“ Yes,” he answered, “ as a matter of fact, I did. How 
the devil did you know ? ” 

An unfortunate episode. 

Later at luncheon he got rather drunk and told some 
very unsuitable anecdotes about a baboon. The mis- 
sionary went off immediately to write letters in the bed- 
room. That evening we took the train to Tabora and 
arrived at noon next day. I travelled with the missionary. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 209 

a cultured and courteous man. We talked about the 
language problem. A conference was sitting at that 
time, and had just decided to make Kiswahili compulsory 
throughout the three territories of Kenya, Uganda, and 
Tanganyika. On the whole, local opinion seems to 
favour this policy, though at first sight there seems little to 
commend it except the consideration that all the officials 
have learned the language at some pains and do not want 
to see their industry wasted. It is clearly desirable that 
there should be a lingua franca. Most of the local dialects 
are quite inadequate for educated employment. There 
is, for example, no word in Kikuyu for “ virgin ” and 
no stage of Kikuyu womanhood with which any parallel 
to it can be drawn. This, as may be imagined, has caused 
considerable difficulty to missionaries. My travelling 
companion’s point was that it was essential that Africans 
should speak a language of African origin ; this seemed 
unduly doctrinaire. The same policy was defended to 
me on other grounds by the editor of a local newspaper, 
who maintained that it tended to preserve race superiority 
if English remained occult. 

We also discussed the rite of female circumcision, 
which is one of the battlegrounds between missionaries 
and anthropologists. The missionary told me of an in- 
teresting experiment that was being made in his district. 
“ We found it impossible to eradicate the practice,” he 
said, “ but we have cleansed it of most of its objection- 
able features. The operation is now performed by my 
wife, in the wholesome atmosphere of the church hut.” 

Perhaps it is by arrangement with the hotel proprietors 
that every change of train involves the delay of a night or 
two. It was not until late on Sunday evening that I 
could get my connection to Kigoma. Even in Africa 
the hotel at Tabora is outstandingly desolate. It is very 
large and old. In the optimistic days of German imperi- 
alism it was built to provide the amusement of an 

Op 



210 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


important garrison. It is now rapidly falling to pieces 
under the management of a dispirited Greek. One 
enters from the terrace into a large, double ballroom from 
which open a dining-room and a bar ; music-stands and 
a broken drum lie on a dais at one end. In the centre is 
a threadbare billiard-table. The bedrooms are in a 
wing ; they open into a cool arcaded corridor ; each is 
provided with a balcony and a bathroom. The paint 
had long ago worn off the bath ; the tap would neither 
turn on or off, but dripped noisily day and night ; the 
balcony had been used as a repository for derelict chairs ; 
two panes of glass in the windows had been broken and 
stuffed with rag. My only companion here was a com- 
mercial traveller in cigarettes. We spent a long afternoon 
together playing poker-dice for shilling points. At the 
end of the day we were all square. 

The town is not without interest. It reflects the various 
stages of its history. Fine groves of mango remain to 
record the days of Arab occupation, when it was the prin- 
cipal clearing station for slaves and ivory on the caravan 
route to the coast. Acacia trees, a fort, and that sad hotel 
remain from the days of German East Africa. It was for 
some time the base of von Letow’s gallant campaign ; it 
was here that he coined his own gold - the Tabora 
sovereign much coveted by collectors. England’s chief 
contribution is a large public school for the education 
of the sons of chiefs. This institution, erected at vast 
expense as a sop to the League of Nations, from whom we 
hold the mandate, is one of the standing jokes of East 
Africa. Bishop Michaud, who very kindly called on me 
and drove me about in his car, took me to inspect it. It 
is a huge concrete building of two stories, planted prom- 
inently on one of the most unsuitable sites in the territory 
for the agricultural demonstrations that are the principal 
feature of its training. At first it was intended exclusively 
for future chiefs, but now it has been opened to other 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


2II 


promising natives. They wear crested blazers and little 
rugger caps ; they have prefects and “ colours ” ; they 
have a brass band ; they learn farming, typewriting, 
English, physical drill, and public-school esfrit de corps. 
They have honour boards, on which the name of one boy 
is inscribed every year. Since there were no particular 
honours for which they could compete - Makerere was 
far above their wildest ambitions — it was originally the 
practice of the boys to elect their champion. Elections, 
however, proved so unaccountably capricious that nom- 
ination soon took their place. I was invited to attend a 
shari (the local word for any kind of discussion). This 
was a meeting of the whole school, at which the prefects 
dealt with any misdemeanours. They sat in chairs on a 
dais ; the school squatted on the floor of the great hall. 
Three boys were called up : two had smoked ; one had 
refused to plough. They were sentenced to be caned. 
Resisting strongly, they were pinioned to the ground by 
their friends while the drill-sergeant, an old soldier from 
the K.A.R., delivered two or three strokes with a cane. 
It was a far lighter punishment than any at an English 
public school, but it had the effect of inducing yells of 
agony and the most extravagant writhings. Appar- 
ently this part of the public-school system had not been 
fully assimilated. 

We drove out to the ruins of the Arab house where 
Stanley and Livingstone had spent three weeks together. 
On the way we passed the residence of a local chief 
whose history illustrates the difference between English 
and African ideas of justice. A few months before my 
arrival he had been arrested for very considerable defal- 
cations of public accounts. There was not the smallest 
doubt of his guilt in anyone’s mind. He was sent down 
to the coast for trial, and there acquitted upon some 
purely technical legal quibble. To the European this 
seemed an excellent example of British impartiality ; 



212 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


anyone, black or white, guilty or not guilty, got a fair 
trial according to law on the evidence submitted. To 
the native there was only one explanation ; he had 
bribed or intimidated his judges. Under German ad- 
ministration, justice was often ruthless, but it was de- 
livered arbitrarily by the officer on the spot, and the sen- 
tence executed immediately in a way that the natives 
understood ; English justice, more tender and sophis- 
ticated, with its rights of appeal and delays of action, is 
more often than not confusing and unsatisfactory to the 
African mind. 

That evening an opinionated little Austrian sizal- 
farmer arrived at the hotel, full of ridicule of British ad- 
ministration. He had just returned to the farm he had 
worked before the war, as Germans and Austrians are 
now doing in large numbers. He was confident that 
after a few more years of British mismanagement the 
territory would have to be handed back to Germany. 
“ Before the war,” he said, ” every native had to salute 
every European or he knew the reason why. Now, 
with all this education . . .” He was as boring as 
any retired colonel in an English farce. 

On Saturday evening the cigarette traveller and I went 
to an Indian cinema. We saw a very old Charlie Chaplin 
film, made long before his rise to eminence, but full of all 
the tricks that have now become world famous ; there 
was even an unhappy ending — his renunciation of love in 
favour of the handsome bounder. There was also a 
scene which was clearly the first version of the exquisite 
passage in Gold Rush where he eats the old boot ; he is 
sitting under a tree, about to begin his luncheon, when 
a tramp steals it ; Charlie shrugs his shoulders, picks a 
handful of grass, peppers and salts it, and eats it with 
delicacy ; then he pours water into a can, rinses the tips 
of his fingers as though in a finger bowl, and dries them 
on a rag - all performed with a restrained swagger. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


213 

This was followed by an Indian film ~ a costume piece 
derived from a traditional fairy-story. A kindly Indian 
next to us helped us with the plot, explaining, “ That is a 
bad man,” “ That is a elephant,” etc. When he wished 
to tell us that the hero had fallen in love with the heroine 
— a situation sufficiently apparent from their extravagant 
gestures of passion - he said, “ He wants to take her into 
the bushes.” 

The church at Tabora was very beautiful ; a great 
thatched barn, with low, whitewashed walls and rough 
wooden pillars daubed with the earth colour of the 
country. It was packed next day with a native congre- 
tion who sang at Mass with tremendous devotion. That 
afternoon I went for another drive with the bishop, and 
late in the evening caught the train for Kigoma. 




SECOND NIGBIXMARE 




SECOND NIGHTMARE 


I ARRIVED at Kigoma in the morning of February and, a 
haphazard spatter of bungalows differing very little 
from the other lakeside stations I had passed through, 
except in the size and apparent disorder of its wharfs and 
goods yard. The lake steamers belong to the Belgian 
Chemin de Fer des Grands Lacs ; notices everywhere 
are in French and Flemish ; there are the offices of Bel- 
gian immigration authorities, vice-consulate, and cus- 
toms ; a huge unfinished building of the Congo trading 
company. But the impression that I had already left 
British soil was dissipated almost at once by the spectacle 
of a pair of Tanganyika policemen, who stood with the 
ticket collector at the station door and forcibly vaccinated 
the native passengers as they passed through. 

It was now about noon and the heat was overpowering. 
I was anxious to get my luggage on board, but it had to be 
left at the customs sheds for examination when the official 
had finished his luncheon. A group of natives were 
squatting in the road, savages with filed teeth and long 
hair, very black, with broad shoulders and spindly legs, 
dressed in bits of skin and rag. A White Father of im- 
mense stature drove up in a box-body lorry containing 
crates, sacks, and nuns for transhipment ; a red and wiry 
beard spread itself over his massive chest ; clouds of 
dense, acrid smoke rose from his cheroot. 

There was a little Greek restaurant in the main street, 
where I lunched and, after luncheon, sat on the verandah 
waiting for the customs office to open. A continual traffic 
of natives passed to and fro - most of them, in from the 
country, far less civilised than any I had seen since the 
Somalis ; a few, in shirts, trousers, and hats, were 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


ai8 

obviously in European employment ; one of them rode 
a bicycle and fell off it just in front of the restaurant ; 
he looked very rueful when he got up, but when the 
passers-by laughed at him he began to laugh too and went 
olF thoroughly pleased with himself as though he had 
made a good joke. 

By about three I got my luggage clear, then after 
another long wait bought my ticket, and finally had my 
passport examined by British and Belgian officials. I 
was then able to go on board the Due de Brabant. She 
was a shabby, wood-burning steamer, with passenger ac- 
commodation in the poop consisting of a stuffy little deck- 
saloon, with two or three cabins below and a padlocked 
lavatory. The short deck was largely taken up by the 
captain’s quarters — an erection like a two-roomed bunga- 
low, containing a brass double bedstead with mosquito- 
curtains, numerous tables and chairs, cushions, photo- 
graph frames, mirrors, clocks, china and metal ornaments, 
greasy cretonnes and torn muslin, seedy little satin bows 
and ribbons, pots of dried grasses, pin-cushions, every 
conceivable sort of cheap and unseamanlike knick-knack. 
Clearly there was a woman on board. I found her knit- 
ting on the shady side of the deck-house. I asked her 
about cabins. She said her husband was asleep and was 
not to be disturbed until five. Gross snoring and grunt- 
ing from the mosquito-curtains gave substance to her 
statement. There were three people asleep in the saloon. 
I went on shore again and visited the Congo agency, 
where I enquired about my aeroplane to Leopoldville. 
They were polite, but quite unhelpful. I must ask at 
Albertville. 

Soon after five the captain appeared. No one, looking 
at him, would have connected him in any way with a ship ; 
a very fat, very dirty man, a stained tunic open at his 
throat, unshaven, with a straggling moustache, crimson- 
faced, gummy-eyed, flat-footed. He would have seemed 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


219 

more at home as proprietor of an estaminet. A dozen or 
so passengers had now assembled — we were due to sail 
at six — and the captain lumbered round examining our 
tickets and passports. Everyone began claiming cabins. 
He would see to all that when we sailed, he said. When 
he came to me he said, “ Where is your medical certi- 
ficate ? ” 

I said I had not got one. 

“ It is forbidden to sail without a medical certificate.” 

I explained that I had been given a visa, had bought 
a ticket, had had my passport examined twice by British 
and Belgian officials, but that no one had said anything 
to me about a medical certificate. 

“ I regret it is forbidden to travel. You must get one.” 

“ But a certificate of what ? What do you want 
certified ? ” 

“ It is no matter to me what is certified. You must 
find a doctor and get him to sign. Otherwise you cannot 
sail.” 

This was three-quarters of an hour before the adver- 
tised time of departure. I hurried on shore and enquired 
where I could find a doctor. I was directed to a hospital 
some distance from the town, at the top of the hill. There 
were, of course, no taxis of any kind. I set out walking 
feverishly. Every now and then the steamer gave a 
whistle which set me going at a jog trot for a few paces. 
At last, streaming with sweat, I reached the hospital. It 
turned out to be a club house ; the hospital was about 
two miles away on the other side of the town. Another 
whistle from the Due de Brabant. I pictured her sailing 
away across the lake with all my baggage, money, and 
credentials. I explained my difficulty to a native servant ; 
he clearly did not at all understand what I wanted, but he 
caught the word doctor. I suppose he thought I was ill. 
Anyway, he lent me a boy to take me to a doctor’s house. 
I set off again at high speed, to the disgust of my guide. 



220 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


and finally reached a bungalow where an Englishwoman 
was sitting in the garden with needlework and a book. 
No, her husband was not at home. Was it anything 
urgent ? 

I explained my predicament. She thought I might be 
able to find him on the shore ; he might be there at work 
on his speed-boat, or else he might be playing tennis, or 
perhaps he had taken the car out to Ujiji. I had better 
try the shore first. 

Down the hill again, this time across country over a 
golf course and expanses of scrub. Sure enough, at one 
of the landing stages about quarter of a mile from the 
Due de Brabant, I found two Englishmen fiddling with 
a motor-boat. One of them was the doctor. I shouted 
down to him what I wanted. It took him some time to 
find any paper. In the end his friend gave him an old 
envelope. He sat down in the stern and wrote : “ I 
have examined Mr.” - “ What’s your name ? ” Waugh, 
and find him jree from infectious disease, including omnis t,b. 
and trypansiniasis. He has been vaccinated^ — “ Five 
shillings, please.” 

I handed down the money ; he handed up the cer- 
tificate. That was that. 

It was ten-past six when I reached the Due de Brabant, 
but she was still there. With a grateful heart I panted 
up the gangway and presented my certificate. When I 
had got my breath a little I explained to a sympathetic 
Greek the narrow escape I had had of being left behind. 
But I need not have hurried. It was a little after midnight 
before we sailed. 

The boat was now very full. On our deck there were 
four or five Belgian officials and their wives, two mining 
engineers, and several Greek traders. There was also a 
plump young man with a pallid face and soft American 
voice. Unlike anyone I had seen for the past month, he 
wore a neat, dark suit, white collar and bow tie. He had 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


221 


a great deal of very neat luggage, including a typewriter 
and a bicycle. I offered him a drink and he said, “ Oh, 
no, thank you,” in a tone which in four monosyllables 
contrived to express first surprise, then pain, then reproof, 
and finally forgiveness. Later I found that he was a 
member of the Seventh Day Adventist mission, on his 
way to audit accounts at Bulawayo. 

The waist and forecastle were heaped with mail-bags 
and freight over which sprawled and scurried a medley of 
animals and native passengers. There were goats and 
calves and chickens, naked negro children, native soldiers, 
women suckling babies or carrying them slung between 
their shoulders, young girls with their hair plaited into 
pigtails, which divided their scalps into symmetrical 
patches, girls with shaven pates and with hair caked in 
red mud, old negresses with bundles of bananas, over- 
dressed women with yellow and red cotton shawls and 
brass bangles, negro workmen in shorts, vests, and 
crumpled topees. There were several little stoves and 
innumerable pots of boiling banana. Bursts of singing 
and laughing. 

They laid the tables in our saloon for dinner. We sat 
tightly packed at benches. There were three or four small 
children who were fed at the table. Two ragged servants 
cooked and served a very bad dinner. The captain col- 
lected the money. Presently he passed round a list of 
those to whom he had given cabins. I was not among 
them, nor was the American missionary nor any of the 
Greeks. We should have slipped him a tip with our 
tickets, I learned later. About a dozen of us were left 
without accommodation. Six wise men laid themselves 
out full length on the saloon benches immediately after 
dinner and established their claim for the night. The 
rest of us sat on our luggage on the deck. There were 
no seats or deck-chairs. Luckily it was a fine night, 
warm, unclouded, and windless. I spread an overcoat 



222 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


on the deck, placed a canvas grip under nay head as a 
pillow and composed myself for sleep. The missionary 
found two little wooden chairs and sat stiff backed, 
wrapped in a rug, with his feet up supporting a book of 
Bible-stories on his knees. As we got up steam, brilliant 
showers of wood sparks rose from the funnel ; soon after 
midnight we sailed into the lake ; a gentle murmur of 
singing came from the bows. In a few minutes I was 
asleep. 

I woke up suddenly an hour later and found myself 
shivering with cold. I stood up to put on my overcoat 
and immediately found myself thrown against the 
rail. At the same moment I saw the missionary’s two 
chairs tip over sideways and him sprawl on the deck. A 
large pile of hand luggage upset and slid towards the 
side. There was a tinkle of broken china from the cap- 
tain’s quarters. All this coincided with torrential down- 
pour of rain and a tearing wind. It was followed in a 
second or two by a blaze of lightning and shattering 
detonation. A chatter of alarm went up from the lower 
deck, and the various protests of disturbed livestock. 
In the half-minute which it took us to collect our luggage 
and get into the saloon we were saturated with rain. And 
here we were in scarcely better conditions, for the win- 
dows, when raised, proved not to be of glass, but of wire 
gauze. The wind tore through them, water poured in 
and slopped from side to side. Women passengers came 
up squealing from, their cabins below, with colourless, 
queasy faces. The saloon became intolerably over- 
crowded. We sat as we had at dinner, packed in rows 
round the two tables. The wind was so strong that it was 
impossible, single-handed, to open the door. Those who 
were ill — the American missionary was the first to go 
under — were obliged to remain in their places. The 
shriek of the wind was so loud that conversation was im- 
possible ; we just clung there, pitched and thrown, now 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


223 

out of our seats, now on top of one another ; occasionally 
someone would fall asleep and wake up instantly with his 
head thumped hard against table or wall. It needed con- 
stant muscular effort to avoid injury. Vile retchings 
occurred on every side. Women whimpered at their 
husbands for support. The children yelled. We were 
all of us dripping and shivering. At last everyone grew 
quieter as alarm subsided and desperation took its place. 
They sat there, rigid and glum, gazing straight before 
them or supporting their heads in their hands until, a 
little before dawn, the wind dropped and rain ceased 
beating in ; then some of them fell asleep, and others 
slunk back to their cabins. I went out on deck. It was 
still extremely cold, and the little boat bobbed and wal- 
lowed hopelessly in a heavy sea, but the storm was clearly 
over. Soon a green and silver dawn broke over the lake ; 
it was misty all round us, and the orange sparks from the 
funnel were just visible against the whiter sky. The two 
stewards emerged with chattering teeth and attempted to 
set things to order in the saloon, dragging out rolls of 
sodden matting and swabbing up the water-logged floor. 
Huddled groups on the lower deck began to disintegrate 
and a few cocks crowed ; there was a clatter of break- 
fast cups and a welcome smell of coffee. 

It was raining again before we reached harbour and 
moored against an unfinished concrete pier, where drip- 
ping convicts were working, chained together in gangs. 
Albertville was almost hidden in mist ; a blur of white 
buildings against the obscurer background. Two rival 
hotel proprietors stood under umbrellas shouting for 
custom ; one was Belgian, the other Greek. Officials 
came on board. We queued up and presented our papers 
one at a time. The inevitable questions : Why was I 
coming into the Congo ? How much money had I .? 
How long did I propose to stay there ? Where was my 
medical certificate ? The inevitable form to fill in - this 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


224 

time in duplicate : Date and place of father’s birth ? 
Mother’s maiden name ? Maiden name of divorced wife ? 
Habitual domicile ? By this time I had learned not to 
reveal the uncertainty of my plans. I told them I was 
going direct to Matadi and was given a certificate of 
entry which I was to present to the immigration officer 
at the frontier. It took two hours before we were 
allowed to land. 

Quite suddenly the rain stopped and the sun came out. 
Everything began to steam. 

I spent two nights at Albertville. It consists of a 
single street of offices, shops, and bungalows. There 
are two hotels catering for visitors in transit to and from 
Tanganyika ; no cinemas or places of amusement. There 
are white people serving in the shops, and white clerks at 
the railway station ; no natives live in the town except 
a handful of dockers and domestic servants. The food 
at the hotel is fairly good ; better than I have had for 
several weeks. The Belgian manager is amiable and 
honest. I spend my time making enquiries about the 
air service. No one knows anything about it. One 
thing is certain, that there has never been an air service 
at Albertville. They think there was one once at Kabalo ; 
that there still may be. Anyway, there is a train to 
Kabalo the day after to-morrow. There is no alternative ; 
one can either take the train to Kabalo or the boat back 
to Kigoma ; there are no other means of communication 
in any direction. With some apprehension of coming 
discomfort, I purchase a ticket to Kabalo. 

The train left at seven in the morning and made the 
journey in a little under eleven hours, counting a halt for 
luncheon at the wayside. It is an uneven line ; so un- 
even that at times I was hardly able to read. I travelled 
first class to avoid the American missionary, and had the 
carriage to myself. For half the day it rained. The 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


225 

scenery was attractive at first ; we pitched and rocked 
through a wooded valley with a background of distant 
hills, and later along the edge of a river broken by islands 
of vivid swamp. Towards midday, however, we came 
into bush country, featureless and dismal ; there was no 
game to be seen, only occasional clouds of white butter- 
flies ; in the afternoon we jolted over mile upon mile of 
track cut through high grass, which grew right up on 
either side of the single line to the height of the carriages, 
completely shutting out all view, but mercifully shading 
us from the afternoon sun. There was a shower-bath 
attached to the first-class coach, an invaluable contribu- 
tion to the comfort of a hot day’s journey which might 
well be commended to the P.L.M. It was fantastic to 
discover, on a jolting single line in Central Africa, decen- 
cies which one cannot get on the Blue Train. It is per- 
haps fair to remark that the shower-bath was not, nor 
apparently had been for some time, in working order ; 
but I have long ceased to hope for any railway carriage 
that will offer a tolerable water system. It seems to be 
well understood by coach designers in all parts of the 
world that the true measure of luxury consists in the 
number of unnecessary electric light switches and different 
coloured bulbs. 

It was just before sundown when we reached Kabalo, 
a place of forbidding aspect. There was no platform ; a 
heap of wood fuel and the abrupt termination of the line 
marked the station ; there were other bits of line sprawl- 
ing out to right and left ; a few shabby trucks had been 
shunted on to one of these, and apparently abandoned ; 
there were two or three goods sheds of corrugated iron 
and a dirty little canteen ; apart from these, no evidence 
of habitation. In front of us lay the Upper Congo - at 
this stage of its course undistinguished among the great 
rivers of the world for any beauty or interest ; a broad 
flow of water, bounded by swamps ; since we were in the 



226 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


rainy season, it was swollen and brown. A barge or two 
lay in to the bank, and a paddle steamer, rusted all over, 
which was like a flooded Thames bungalow more than a 
ship. A bit of the bank opposite the railway line had been 
buttressed up with concrete ; on all sides lay rank swamp. 
Mercifully, night soon came on and hid this beastly 
place. 

I hired a boy to sit on my luggage, and went into the 
canteen. There, through a haze of mosquitoes, I dis- 
cerned a prominent advertisement of the Kabalo-Matadi 
air service ; two or three railway officials were squatting 
about on stiff little chairs swilling tepid beer. There was 
a surly and dishevelled woman slopping round in bed- 
room slippers, with a tray of dirty glasses. In answer to 
my enquiry, she pointed out the patron, a torpid lump 
fanning himself in the only easy chair. I asked him when 
the next aeroplane left the coast ; everyone stopped talk- 
ing and stared at me when I put this question. The 
patron giggled. He did not know when the next would 
leave ; the last went about ten months ago. There were 
only three ways of leaving Kabalo ; either by train back 
to Albertville or by river up or down stream. The Prince 
Leopold was due that evening for Bukama ; in a day or so 
there would be a boat down the river ; if I took that, I 
could, with judicious alternations of boat and rail, reach 
Matadi in under a month. 

At this stage one of the railway officials interposed 
helpfully. There were trains from Bukama to a place 
called Port Francqui. If I wired, and if the wire ever 
reached its destination, I could arrange for the Elizabcth- 
ville-Matadi air service to pick me up there. Failing 
that, I could get from Bukama on to the newly opened 
Benguela railway and come out on the coast at Lx>bita 
Bay in Portuguese West Africa. In any case, I had 
better go to Bukama. Kabalo, he remarked, was a dull 
place to stay in. 





Stations on the Upper Congo 


^ -^7 




REMOTE PEOPLE 


227 

Two hours passed and there was no sign of the Prince 
Leofold. We ate a frightful (and very expensive) meal in 
the canteen. The Seventh Day Adventist came in from 
the railway line, where he had been sitting in the dark 
in order to avoid the sight and smell of beer-drinking. 
He was travelling by the Prince Leopold^ too. Another 
two hours and she arrived. We went on board that night 
and sailed at dawn. 

The journey took four days. It was not uncomfort- 
able. There was heavy rain half the time and the tem- 
perature was never insupportable. I had a cabin to 
myself, and I fought boredom, and to some extent over- 
came it, by the desperate expedient of writing — it was 
there, in fact, that I ground out the first two chapters 
of this book. 

The Prince Leopold was a large paddle-steamer, twice 
the size of the Rusinga, with half the staff. The captain 
and a Greek steward seemed to do all the work ; the 
former young and neurotic, the latter middle-aged and 
imperturbable, both very grubby. It was a great con- 
trast to all those dapper bachelors on Lake Victoria, 
with their white collars and changes of uniform. The 
captain had married quarters in the top story (one could 
only regard it as a floating house, not as a ship) ; his 
strip of deck was fringed with pots of fern and palm ; 
below him was the European passengers’ deck, two rows 
of tiny cabins, an observation platform, and a bathroom ; 
the ground floor was occupied by cargo and native pas- 
sengers. We stopped two or three times a day at desolate 
little stations, where a crowd of natives and two sickly 
Belgian agents would come down to greet us. Sometimes 
there was a native village ; usually nothing except a 
single shed and a pile of timber. We delivered mail, took ■ 
up cargo, and occasionally effected some change of pas- 
sengers. These were all Greek or Belgian ; either 
traders or officials ; except for the inevitable round of 



228 


REMOTE PEOPLE 


hand§haking each morning there was very little inter- 
course. The Seventh Day Adventist became slightly ill ; 
he attributed his discomfort to the weakness of the tea. 
The scenery was utterly dreary. Flat papyrus-swamps 
on either side broken by rare belts of palm. The captain 
employed his time in inflicting slight wounds on passing 
antelope with a miniature rifle. Occasionally he would be 
convinced that he had killed something ; the boat would 
stop and all the native passengers disembark and scramble 
up the side with loud whoops and yodles. There was 
difficulty in getting them back. The captain would 
watch them, through binoculars, plunging and gambol- 
ling about in the high grass ; at first he would take an 
interest in the quest, shouting directions to them ; then 
he would grow impatient and summon them back ; they 
would disappear further and further, thoroughly enjoy- 
ing their romp. He would have the siren sounded for 
them - blast after blast. Eventually they would come 
back, jolly, chattering, and invariably empty-handed. 

We were due to arrive at Bukama on Sunday (February 
8th). The train for Port Francqui did not leave until 
the following Tuesday night. It was customary for pas- 
sengers to wait on board, an arrangement that was pro- 
fitable to the company and comparatively comfortable 
for them. I was prevented from doing this by a violent 
and inglorious altercation with the captain, which 
occurred quite unexpectedly on the last afternoon of the 
journey. 

I was sitting in my cabin, engrossed in the affairs of 
Abyssinia, when the captain popped in and, with wild 
eye and confused speech, demanded to be shown the 
ticket for my motor-bicycle. I am convinced that he was 
sober, but I am less sure of his sanity. I replied that I 
had no motor-bicycle. “ What, no motor-bicycle ? ” 
“ No, no motor-bicycle.” He shook his head, clicked his 
tongue and popped out again. I went on writing. 



REMOTE PEOPLE - 229 

In half an hour he was back again ; this time with a 
fellow passenger who spoke English. 

“ The captain wishes me to tell you that he must see 
the ticket for your motor-bicycle.” 

“ But I have already told the captain that I have no 
motor-bicycle.” 

“You do not understand. It is necessary to have a 
ticket for a motor-bicycle.” 

“ I have no motor-bicycle.” 

They left me again. 

Ten minutes later the captain was back. “ Will you 
kindly show me your motor-bicycle.” 

“ I have no motor-bicycle.” 

“ It is on my list that you have a motor-bicycle. Will 
you kindly show it to me.” 

“ I have no motor-bicycle.” 

“ But it is on my list.” 

“ I am sorry. I have no motor-bicycle.” 

Again he went away ; again he returned ; now, be- 
yond question, stark crazy. “ The motor-bicycle — the 
motor-bicycle ! I must see the motor-bicycle.” 

“ I have no motor-bicycle.” 

It is idle to pretend that I maintained a dignified calm. 
I was in a tearing rage, too. After all we were in the 
heart of the tropics where tempers are notoriously vola- 
tile. 

“ Very well, I will search your luggage. Show it to 
me.” 

“ It is in this cabin. Two suitcases under the bunk ; 
one bag on the rack.” 

“ Show it to me.” 

“ Look for it yourself.” As I say, an inglorious, 
schoolboy brawl. 

“ I am the captain of this ship. Do you expect me to 
move luggage.” 

“ I am a passenger. Do you expect me to ? ” 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


230 

He went to the door and roared for a boy. No one 
came. With a trembling hand I attempted to write. He 
roared again. Again. At last a sleepy boy ambled up. 
“ Take those suitcases from under the bunk.” 

I pretended to be writing. I could hear the captain 
puffing just behind me (it was a very small cabin). 

“ Well,” I said, “ have you found a motor-bicycle ? ” 

“ Sir, that is my affair,” said the captain. 

He went away. I thought I had heard the last of the 
incident. In half an hour he was back. “ Pack your bag. 
Pack your bag instantly.” 

“ But I am staying on board until Tuesday.” 

“ You are leaving at once. I am the captain. I will 
not allow people of your kind to stay here another hour.” 

In this way I found myself stranded on the wharf at 
Bukama with two days to wait for my train. A humilia- 
ting situation, embittered by the Seventh Day Adventist, 
who came to offer his sympathy. “ It doesn’t do to 
argue,” he said, “ unless you understand the language.” 
Damn him. 

I thought I had touched bottom at Kabalo, but 
Bukama has it heavily beaten. If ever a place merited 
the epithet “ God-forsaken ” in its literal sense, it is that 
station. An iron bridge spans the river leading from 
the European quarter to the desolated huts of the native 
navvies who built it. Two ruined bungalows stand by the 
waterside and the overgrown Government rest-house, 
whose use has been superseded by the Prince Leopold ; 
it is still nominally open, and it was here that I should 
have to stay if I decided to wait for the Port Franequi 
train. It is unfurnished and, presumably, infested with 
spirillum tick. Some distance from the landing-point lies 
the jumble of huts that serve as ticket and goods office 
of the Katanga railway. A road leads up the hill, where 
are two abandoned offices and a Greek bar and general 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


231 

Store, At the top of the hill is the administrative port — 
a flag staff, the bungalow of the resident official, and a 
small hospital round which squatted a group of dejected 
patients enveloped in bandages. A platoon of native 
soldiers shuffled past. The heat and damp were appall- 
ing, far worse than anything I had met in Zanzibar. At 
sundown, swarms of soundless, malarial mosquitoes ap- 
peared. I sat in the Greek bar, with sweat splashing 
down like rain-water from my face to the floor ; the pro- 
prietor knew only a few words of French. In these few 
words he advised me to leave Bukama as soon as I could, 
before I went down with fever. He himself was ashen 
and shivering from a recent bout. There was a train 
some time that evening for Elizabethville. I decided to 
take it. The Seventh Day Adventist, I found, was 
travelling with me. 

We had a long wait, for no one knew the time when 
the train was expected. The station was completely dark 
except for one window at which a vastly bearded old man 
sold the tickets. Little groups of natives sat about on the 
ground. Some of them carried lanterns, some had 
lighted little wood fires and were cooking food. There 
was a ceaseless drumming in the crowd - as difficult to 
locate as the song of a grasshopper — and now and again 
a burst of low singing. At ten o’clock the train came in. 
The carriage was full of mosquitoes ; there was no net- 
ting ; the windows were jammed ; the seats hard and 
extremely narrow. Two Greeks ate oranges all through 
the night. In this way I went to Elizabethville. 

Elizabethville has really no part in this Nightmare. 
The two days I spent there were placid and wholly agree- 
able. I arrived early in the afternoon on the day after my 
departure from Bukama and stayed there until late on the 
Wednesday evening. I lived in an hotel kept by an ex- 
officer with a fine cavalry moustache. There was decent 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


232 

wine, good cigars, and very good food. There was a 
large, cool room in which to work, and a clean bathroom ; 
in the town I found a bookshop and an excellent cinema. 
The only nightmarish thing was the disorganisation of 
my plans — but these had been so frequently changed 
during the past month that I had ceased to put any trust 
in their permanence. 

The air service proved definitely and finally to be use- 
less to me. There was, it is true, some prospect of an 
aeroplane leaving for the coast during the next week or 
two, provided that enough passengers demanded it. 
Since the fare was slightly in excess of that charged by 
Imperial Airways for the whole journey from London to 
Cape Town, it seemed to me unlikely that there would be 
much custom. The “ newly opened ” railway to Lobita 
Bay was closed again. It had only been possible in the 
dry season when motor-transport could bridge the un- 
finished gap at the Belgian end of the line. I could 
return to Bukama and go to the coast via Port Francqui 
and Leopoldville, catching a Belgian steamer at Boma ; 
but, paradoxically enough, the quickest way to Europe — 
and by this time I was hard in grip of travelphobia - was 
hundreds of miles out of the way through the Rhodesias 
and the Union of South Africa. There I could get a fast 
mail-boat from Cape Town to Southampton. The 
journey had already vastly exceeded my original estimate 
and I was uncomfortably short of money' ; accordingly 
I decided to follow this route. 

I had some diificuity in explaining, to the satisfaction 
of the immigration officer whose permission was neces- 
sary before I could leave the Congo, why I diverged so 

» Since expenses are always an important part of travel, it may be of 
interest to remark that, from the date I left England in October 1930, 
until my return in March 1931, the total cost of my journey, including 
a good many purchases of tropical clothes, local painting, carving, etc., 
and consistent losses at all games of skill and chance, came to a little short 
of £soo. 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


233 

much from the itinerary outlined in my certificate of 
entry. In the end, however, he understood my difficulties 
and gave me leave to depart. In the meantime I worked, 
rested, and enjoyed the comfort and tranquillity of Eliza- 
bethville. How reassuring are these occasional recon- 
ciliations with luxury. How often in Europe, after too 
much good living, I have begun to doubt whether the 
whole business of civilised taste is not a fraud put upon 
us by shops and restaurants. Then, after a few weeks of 
gross, colonial wines, hard beds, gritty bath-water, 
awkward and surly subordinates, cigars from savage 
Borneo or the pious Phillipines, cramped and unclean 
quarters, and tinned foodstuffs, one realises that the 
soft things of Europe are not merely rarities which one 
has been taught to prefer because they are expensive, but 
thoroughly satisfactory compensations for the rough and 
tumble of earning one’s living — and a far from negligible 
consolation for some of the assaults and deceptions by 
which civilisation seeks to rectify the balance of good 
fortune. 

Six days in the train with little to relieve the monotony. 
At Bulawayo I bought a novel called A Muster of Vultures^ 
in which the villain burned away his victims’ faces with 
“ the juice of a tropical cactus ” ; at Mafeking I bought 
peaches ; once our windows were bedewed with spray 
from the Victoria Falls ; once everything was powdered 
deep in dust from the great Karoo Desert ; once we took 
in a crowd of desperate men dismissed from the Rhodesian 
copper-mines ; two were known to be without tickets or 
passports and there was a frantic search for them by bare- 
kneed police officers, up and down the corridors and 
under the seats ; one of them stole nine shillings from 
the half-caste boy who made up the beds. When we 
changed on to a new train at Bulawayo there were white 
stewards in the dining-car ; after so many months it 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


234 

seemed odd and slightly indecent to see white men wait- 
ing on each other. Currency consisted chiefly of three- 
penny bits (called “ tickles ”) and gold sovereigns ; also 
of a variety of notes issued by different banking corpora- 
tions. 

At last we arrived in Cape Town ; a hideous city that 
reminded me of Glasgow ; trams running between great 
stone offices built in Victorian Gothic ; one or two 
gracious relics of the eighteenth century ; down-at-heel 
negroes and half-castes working in the streets ; dapper 
Jews in the shops. 

I had about forty pounds left in my pocket. A boat 
was sailing that afternoon. I could either wire to London 
for more money and await its arrival or I could take a 
third-class ticket home. I left that day. For ^10 I 
bought a berth in a large and clean cabin. There were 
two other occupants ; one a delightful man from North 
Devon who had been working on the railway ; the other 
a Jew boy from a shop. The stewards treated us with 
superiority, but good nature ; the food was like that of 
an exceptionally good private school - large luncheons, 
substantial meat teas, biscuit suppers. There was a very 
fat Welsh clergyman travelling in the third class with us. 
His congregation came to see him off. They sang hymns 
on the quayside, which he conducted with extravagant 
waving of his arms until we were out of earshot. Chiefly 
they sang one whose refrain was “ I’m sailing home,” but 
they had been a little deluded by the felicity of these 
words, for the general theme of the composition was less 
appropriate. It referred, in fact, not to the journey from 
Cape Town to England, but to death and the return of the 
soul to its Creator. However, no one seemed depressed 
by this prediction, and the clergyman’s wife sang it with 
great feeling long after her husband had stopped beating 
the time. 

It was a pleasant voyage. In the evenings we played 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


^3S 

“ pontoon ” a simplified form of vingt-et-un., a game which 
in itself is far from complex. In the mornings we boxed 
or played “ pontoon.” There were frequent sing-songs, 
led by a troop of disgruntled dirt-track racers whose 
season in South Africa had been a failure. 

We stopped at St. Helena, where I should not the 
least object to being exiled, and at Teneriffe, where 
everyone bought very foul cigars. A day later, however, 
we ran into rough and very cold weather and the cigar- 
smoking fell oflF noticeably. There were heavy seas for 
the rest of the voyage, and most of the women remained 
below. A sports committee was organised, and proved 
the occasion for much bad blood ; the Welsh clergyman 
in particular came in for criticism, on the ground that a 
man with a child of his own had no business to organise 
the children’s fancy-dress party. “ He’ll give his own 
little boy the best prize,” they said. “ Who wouldn’t ? ” 
He replied by saying that he would have them know that, 
when he came out, a special presentation had been made 
to him by his fellow passengers in thanks for his public- 
spirited management of the deck-games. They said, 
“ That’s as may be.” He said he would sooner give up 
the whole thing than have his honour questioned. It 
was all most enjoyable. 

Eventually, on March loth, we berthed at South- 
ampton. 




THIRD NIGHXMARK 




THIRD NIGHTMARE 


On the night of my return I dined in London. After 
dinner we were in some doubt where to go. The names 
I suggested had long ceased to be popular. Eventually 
we decided, and drove to a recently opened supper- 
restaurant which, they said, was rather amusing at the 
moment. 

It was underground. We stepped down into the blare 
of noise as into a hot swimming-pool, and immersed our- 
selves ; the atmosphere caught our breath like the eman- 
ation in a brewery over the tanks where fermentation 
begins. Cigarette-smoke stung the eyes. 

A waiter beckoned us to a small table, tight-packed 
among other tables, so that our chairs rubbed backs with 
their neighbours. Waiters elbowed their way in and out, 
muttering abuse in each others’ ears. Some familiar 
faces leered through the haze : familiar voices shrilled 
above the din. 

We chose some wine. 

“ You’ll have to take something to eat with it.” 

We ordered seven-and-sixpenny sandwiches. 

Nothing came. 

A negro in fine evening-clothes was at the piano, sing- 
ing. Afterwards, when he went away, people fluttered 
their hands at him and tried to catch his eye. He be- 
stowed a few patronising nods. Someone yelled, “ He’s 
losing his figure.” 

A waiter came and said, “ Any more orders for drinks 
before closing time ? ” We said we had had nothing 
yet. He made a face and pinched another waiter vici- 
ously in the arm, pointing at our table and whispering in 
Italian. That waiter pinched another. Eventually the 

*39 



REMOTE PEOPLE 


240 

last-pinched waiter brought a bottle and slopped out 
some wine into glasses. It frothed up and spilt on the 
tablecloth. We looked at the label and found that it was 
not the wine we had ordered. 

Someone shrilled in my ear : “ Why, Evelyn, where 
have you been ? I haven’t seen you about anywhere for 
days.” 

My friends talked about the rupture of an engagement 
which I did not know was contracted. 

The wine tasted like salt and soda water. Mercifully 
a waiter whisked it away before we had time to drink it. 
“ Time, if you please.” 

I was back in the centre of the Empire, and in the spot 
where, at the moment, “ everyone ” was going. Next 
day the gossip-writers would chronicle the young M.P.s, 
peers, and financial magnates who were assembled in 
that rowdy cellar, hotter than Zanzibar, noisier than the 
market at Harar, more reckless of the decencies of hos- 
pitality than the taverns of Kabalo or Tabora. And a 
month later the wives of English officials would read 
about it, and stare out across the bush or jungle or desert 
or forest or golf links, and envy their sisters at home, and 
wish they had the money to marry rich men. 

Why go abroad ? 

See England first. 

Just watch London knock spots off the Dark Con- 
tinent. 

I paid the bill in yellow African gold. It seemed just 
tribute from the we^er races to their mentors. 









AIDE-dc-CAMP’S LIBRARY 


Accn. No... 



I. Books may be retained for a period not 
exceeding fifteen days.